Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Eric Zeisl - Chamber Music - Piano Trio Suite - String Quartet No. 2 - "Arrowhead" Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp - The Brandeis-Bardin Ensemble - The Debussy Trio - Harmonia Mundi France 1991

This Harmonia Mundi disc offers three chamber works by Eric Zeisl, and this is as good as chamber music gets. Such a composer was Zeisl. I will be posting all available recordings of his music, however it will only leave you wanting for more (yes that's my addiction acting up, and rehab is impossible as these are such beautiful drugs for the soul). Chagall's "The Fiddler" welcomes us on the cover to come wander, reflect, and dance with him, and this 72 minute visit is a sheer delight. A klezmorim is often not unlike the pied piper; the same can be said for the magic music of Eric Zeisl.

Zeisl composed instrumental music throughout his career, creating a total of twenty-four solo and chamber works. Written over a span of years from the 1920s to the late 1950s, the music here further reveals that Eric Zeisl bequeathed to posterity a legacy of lasting merit and intense individuality. His is a directly communicative testament of solidly crafted, expressive, beautiful music. 

The early Piano Trio Suite in B, Op. 8, was composed in 1934-24 and premiered in 1928. An astonishing work from the pen of a teenage boy, this music exhibits structural and technical principles   that Zeisl would retain throughout his career. The opening movement, Praeludium, projects on a heroic scale the modified song from favored in Zeisl's Leider. The Adagio sostenuto combines a supporting, dirge-like ostinato with an expansive string melody ("Melody is heart and you can't construct melodies," Zeisl once observed. "They are the essence of musical gift."). The third movement offers Zeisl's first essay in the Scherzo/trio form; the finale is the first preserved manifestation of of a form he wold cultivate for the rest of his life: theme and variations. Although isolated phrases of this work may remind listeners of Mahler or Richard Strauss, here already is an individual language that convincingly bridges romanticism and the Viennese avant-garde, a style in which Eastern and Western elements have begun to coalesce. It is fortunate that the Trio survives at all; the sole copy of the work disappeared in America during Zeisl's lifetime, resurfacing in December of 1979, twenty years after his death, thanks to the alertness of Music Librarian Martin Silver at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Soon after an auspicious beginning in the States, the composer found himself locked in a grim struggle for survival which left serious composition out of the question. Of great significance, therefore, were his three summers (1948-1950) as a composer-in-residence at the Brandeis Camp Institute (now the Brandeis-Bardin Institute) in Brandeis, California. During these years, Zeisl devoted his attention to absolute instrumental works, including the "Sonata Barocca" for piano, the "Brandeis" Sonata for Violin and Piano, a Viola Sonata, a Cello Sonata, and the String Quartet No. 2 
from 1952-53, a work of intensity, dramatic power, and contrapuntal sophistication. In other words-a knockout. A powerful Pesante introduction precedes the vigorous, driving Allegro first movement. The heart of the Quartet is the slow second movement, an "intimate talk between God and man" as Zeisl puts it. A Scherzo and Trio follow, with the lyrical, highly expressive trio providing a moment of repose from the scherzo's exciting headlong dash. The animated, virtuosic final, Zeisl's only sonata-rondo, displays the composer's delight in 'mirror writing', fugato, and counterpoint. This Quartet is up there imo with the finest in the 20th century repertoire.

By the mid-1950s, the composer's circumstances had improved markedly, and the future looked promising. During a summer vacation at Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, Zeisl began work on the lovely "Arrowhead" Trio for Viola, Flute and Harp, completing it in just 23 days. This serious composition stands in striking contrast to the sunny surroundings of its creation. Long aware of a heart condition, Zeisl responded not to external stimuli, but rather to an internal rhythm, one prophetic of his own early death. The trio illustrates Zeisl's conciseness of utterance, intensity of Hebraic expression, and perfection of modified song form. Premeired on January 25th, 1957, the "Arrowhead" Trio, Zeisl's last chamber work, completes in America the circle begun in Europe. 

I will write the track listing later, got to get to work!



euclidcreek said...

Thanks to your positive and enthusiastic revue, I will give this composer and CD a listen.

cjvinthechair said...

Ah, now, Mr. T - I see your game...luring me in with some lovely orchestral works, then slipping in the dreaded 'chamber music' to catch me unawares ! worked; saw the combination of flute, viola & harp, & thought 'If nothing else, might try that'.
Could even end up liking the stuff; and it'll all be your fault !

Tzadik said...

Hello euclidcreek, thanks for commenting. I Hope you enjoy the music, come back and leave
your impressions if you have the time..


Tzadik said...

Ha, trapped! Cjv....well I will confess that when I grabbed this one off of the shelf I did think of the tremendous conflict that you would be up against ;) In fact I wanted to be the first to leave a comment, but for you, however I was almost late for work by posting the Zeisl alone.

I think you are going to take to this one, certainly the "Arrowhead" trio anyway; if like me you find the Debussian trio of flute/viola/harp intoxicating, and have blood coursing through your veins, and have the winning symmetry of a pair of ears-then it's a golden scenario!


euclidcreek said...

The "Arrowhead" Trio for Viola, Flute and Harp was wonderful. I agree "a golden scenario." Thanks for turning me on.

Tzadik said...

euclidcreek thank you for stopping back in :) Nice to hear you enjoyed the music, I have such a sweet spot for viola, flute and harp. such wondrous sound possibilities!



WMS Nemo said...

As a lover of chamber music I give Zeisl a try

Scion said...

please re-up