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!