Erwin Schulhoff: genres and music crossing borders

Schulhoff box

“Music should primarily bring physical pleasure, even ecstasy, to the listener. It is not philosophy, its origin lies in ecstatic situations and its expression in rhythm”  Erwin Schulhoff wrote in 1919.

From his earliest youth, Schulhoff was fascinated by everything new. His music transcended borders and genres – sometimes even those of ‘good decency’. He was a man of extremes, heartily embracing dada and jazz, and he also had a particular liking for the grotesque. No wonder that the synthesis of jazz and classical music, of everything in fact, became for him not only a challenge, but ultimately his artistic credo.

Schulhoff Lockenhaus

My first acquaintance with the composer and his music was thirty years ago, at the Lockenhaus chamber music festival, led by Gidon Kremer. It was mainly his string sextet, with its strong Janaček influences, that made me gasp for air. Since that day I was hooked. It took a long time, but in the meantime Schulhoff has found his way to the concert stages and recording studios. Especially the latter, because he is still too rarely programmed at concerts.

Schulhoff etersen

My very first record encounter with the composer was the recording of his complete string quartets by the Petersen Quartet, in 1992. To my delight, the string quartets are also in the six-CD box set recently released by the Capriccio label. These are recordings of many of his works (dear Capriccio: there is more!) made by Deutschlandfunk Kultur between 1992 and 2007. Most of these recordings have already appeared on Capriccio (but also on other, often no longer existing labels).

The 2007 recording of the Double Concerto for flute and piano, with Dutch flutist Jacques Zoon as soloist, is new to me. And it is so beautiful! Also new to me is the recording of the Second and Fifth Symphonies, in which the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is conducted by the greatest advocate of ‘entartete composers’, James Conlon.

Symphonies no. 2 & 5, Piano Concerto op. 34, Concerto Doppio, Concert for string quartet and winds, String quartets no. 1 & 2, String sextet, Sonata for violin solo, Duo for violin and cello, Piano sonatas no. 1 & 3, Piano works
Jacques Zoon (flute); Frank-Immo Zichner, Margarete Babinsky (piano); Petersen Quartet; Leipzicher Streichquartett; Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by James Conlon; Deutscher Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Roland Kluttig
Capriccio C7297

War… there is no word more cruel

Weinberg 18

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, or at least his music, is making an accelerated catch-up. After years of being completely ignored, his works are being programmed more and more often, and one composition after another by the great master (for that is what he undoubtedly was,) is being recorded and released on CD.

Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by his teacher and intimate friend, Dmitri Shostakovich, but never before have I perceived this influence so strongly as in his trumpet concerto composed in 1966. Of course, this is also due to the choice of instrument. Like no other, the trumpet is perfectly suited to express irony, the favourite form of expression of both composers. No wonder that Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings comes to mind.

The orchestration is also ‘des Sjostakovichs’: think of his Lady Macbeth of Mstsensk. The essential difference lies in its overall refinement and in the development and solution of the main theme. Where the teacher still set his own limit, the pupil takes it a step further, into the wide world.

Part two, Episodes, strongly reminds me of Ives and in the third part, the Fanfares, Weinberg explores atonality. In doing so, he freely makes use of improvisations and free jazz.

Andrew Balio is, I think (I do not know him), one of the greatest virtuosos among trumpet players. His melancholic sound in the second movement contrasts sharply with his fantastic improvisations in the third.

The 18th symphony is, as the title suggests, nothing less than a major indictment of war. Composed for the Soviet Union in the turbulent 1980s, it does not fail to impress with its unconventional division of the movements. It starts with an adagio and it also ends with an adagio; the pianissimo poem by Aleksandr Tvardovsky sung by the choir:

“War – there is no word more cruel.
War – there is no word more sad.
War – there is no word more holy
In the sorrow and the glory of these years.
There is and there could not be
Any other word on our lips.”

Very impressive.

Petje af voor Martha Argerich

Die Martha toch! Tachtig inmiddels maar stoppen? Ho maar. Integendeel, nog steeds maakt zij nieuwe opnamen en haar kennende verwacht ik dat zij binnenkort overal in de wereld de show gaat stelen met haar optredens. Zoals ook op de DG-cd waarop zij de ‘Fantasie voor piano en orkest’ van Debussy speelt. Zij heeft het werk niet eerder opgenomen, een primeur aldus.

Zij speelt op haar Martha’s: een beetje onstuimig, met veel kleurnuances en alle aandacht opeisend. De door Barenboim geleide Staatskappele Berlin wordt hier gedegradeerd door niet meer dan een fatsoenlijke begeleider van een ster. Wat ik niet erg vind.

In ‘La Mer’ is Barenboim mij een beetje kwijt. Gewend zoals ik ben aan meer impressionistische ‘penseeltekeningen’ word ik hier een beetje bang gemaakt door het geweld van de zee. Maar goed: dat kan, kwestie van interpretatie.

Wat de vioolsonate, gespeeld door Barenboims zoon Michael betreft, ik heb het al beter gehoord. Niet dat het slecht is, maar het mist de mystiek die ik zo in andere opnamen zo waardeer. Probeer maar Shlomo Mintz met Yefim Bronfman:

Kian Soltani kan mij ook niet helemaal overtuigen in de cellosonate. En aangezien het Barenboim is en niet Argerich die in beide werken de pianopartij speelt is de cd cover een beetje misleidend.

Claude Debussy
Fantaisie pour piano et orchestre L 73; Violin Sonata in G minor, L. 148; Cello Sonata in D Minor, L. 135; La Mer, L. 109
Martha Argerich en Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (viool), Kian Soltani (cello)
Staatskapelle Berlin olv Daniel Barenboi
DG 74797990

Rising like a phoenix from the ashes: Różycki’s Violin Concerto

Ludomir Różycki: who still knows this composer? I fear that even in Poland he is no longer more than just a name, although I cannot swear to it. And if he is mentioned anywhere in the music history books, it is because of his ballet Pan Twardowski. And yet he composed so much more!

Together with (among others) Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, Karol Szymanowski and Grzegorz Fitelberg, Różycki was part of the group ‘Młoda Polska’ (Young Poland). The movement, which lasted for roughly thirty years (1890 – 1920) and featured decadence, neo-romanticism, symbolism, impressionism and art nouveau, was not exclusively a Polish phenomenon. Just think of the Italian Novecento. Parabellum. Zeitgeist.

Różycki started working on his violin concerto in the summer of 1944, the summer of the Warsaw Uprising. When the situation became too dangerous, Różycki fled Warsaw with his family members. He hid his unfinished manuscript in a suitcase and buried it in his garden. Różycki’s house did not survive the uprising and the composer started working in Katowice after the war. He never thought about his violin concerto again. It was gone. Lost. It was only years, really years later that construction workers found the score in the ruins of his house. Polish National Library included it in its archive and … and nothing else happened.

But the miracles are not over yet. In 2018, violinist Janusz Wawrowski discovered the score and was just about stunned. He knew immediately that he had struck gold, that he had found a real musical wonder. Not that it was perfect. When you are pulled out from under the ashes, you are likely to be a bit battered. The score was missing 87 opening bars, but in collaboration with pianist and composer Ryszard Bryla, Wawrowski managed to reconstruct the concerto.

The concerto was recorded by Warner Classics (0190295191702) and when I put the CD on, it was my turn to be stunned, indeed I was knocked for six. So extraordinarily beautiful, so full of unadulterated emotion. It is unimaginable that this treasure has lain hidden underground (and after that in the library) for so many years.

Różycki’s concerto is coupled with Tchaikovsky’s. Not very surprising, since both concertos have so much in common. The performance by Janusz Wawrowski and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Grzegorz Nowak, is just like the concertos themselves: divinely beautiful.

Raphael Wallfisch plays works for cello by Weinberg: a great CD!

Weinberg Wallfish

I think, no, I’m sure that Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s cello concerto is one of his best-known works. Weinberg composed it in 1948 and dedicated it to Mstislav Rostropovich, who also gave the premiere in 1957. And it did not stop there: Rostropovich was so convinced of the high quality of the composition that he included the concerto in his repertoire. He took the concerto with him to his live performances and also to the recording studios, as a result of which it is very well documented.

Now, the origin of the work is more complicated than we (or I!) thought. In short: first there was a Concertino for cello and orchestra that was just sitting on the shelf until Rostropovich came across it and appreciated it a lot. This was Weinberg’s main reason for rewriting it into a real concerto.

All this can be read in the textbook that ‘accompanies’ the new recording of the cello concerto by Raphael Wallfisch. The textbook alone is reason enough to purchase the CD. In addition we also get the original Concertino (which has now been given the designation opus 43 bis)! It was first performed in 2017 and, to my knowledge, was recorded for the first time in 2020. It is such a luxury to be able to listen to both ‘versions’ side by side!

And then there is the beautiful, melancholic Fantasy for cello and orchestra. Weinberg composed it in the winter of 1952/53 and the premiere took place on November 23, 1953, but without the orchestra. It was performed by Daniil Shafran (cello) accompanied by Nina Musinyan (piano). The piece takes only 17 minutes: but that is long enough for a whole range of emotions to pass by.

The performance by Raphael Wallfisch is unequalled, it is only natural that he has an affinity with it. The Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Lukasz Borowicz is also excellent. It is a huge asset.

Als een feniks uit de as herrijzen: het vioolconcerto van Różycki

Ludomir Różycki: wie kent de componist nog wel? Ik vrees dat hij zelfs in Polen niet meer dan een naam is, al kan ik er geen eed op doen. En als hij nog ergens in de muziekgeschiedenisboeken wordt gememoreerd dan is het vanwege zijn ballet Pan Twardowski. En dat terwijl hij zo veel meer heeft gecomponeerd!

Samen met (o.a.) Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, Karol Szymanowski en Grzegorz Fitelberg maakte Różycki deel van de groep ‘Młoda Polska’ (Jong Polen). De beweging die ruwweg dertig jaar lang duurde (1890 – 1920) en die decadentie, neoromantiek, symbolisme, impressionisme en art nouveau in zijn vaandel had was geen Pools fenomeen. Denk alleen maar aan de Italiaanse Novecento. Parabellum. Zeitgeist

Aan zijn vioolconcert is Różycki in de zomer van 1944 begonnen, de zomer van de Opstand van Warschau. Toen de situatie te gevaarlijk werd is Różycki samen met zijn familieleden Warschau ontvlucht. Zijn onaffe manuscript heeft hij in een koffer verstopt en in zijn tuin begraven. Różycki’s huis overleefde de opstand niet en de componist is na de oorlog in Katowice aan het werk gegaan. Aan zijn vioolconcert dacht hij niet meer. Het was weg. Verloren. Het was pas jaren, echt jaren later dat de bouwvakkers in de ruïnes van zijn huis de partituur hadden gevonden. Poolse Nationale Bibliotheek heeft het in zijn archief opgenomen en … en er gebeurde verder niets.

Maar de wonderen zijn de wereld nog niet uit. In 2018 heeft de violist Janusz Wawrowski de partituur ontdekt en werd zowat knock-out geslagen. Hij wist meteen dat hij goud in zijn handen had, een wereldwonder. Niet dat het volmaakt was. Als je van onder de as tevoorschijn wordt gehaald dan ben je een beetje gehavend. Aan de partituur ontbraken 87 openingsmaten, maar in samenwerking met pianist en componist Ryszard Bryła is het Wawrowski gelukt om het concert te reconstrueren.

Het concert werd door Warner Classics (0190295191702) opgenomen en toen ik de cd heb opgezet werd nu ik knock-out geslagen. Zo waanzinnig mooi, zo vol onvervalste emoties. Onvoorstelbaar gewoon dat deze schat jarenlang onder de grond (en in de bibliotheek) verborgen is geweest.

Het concert van Różycki is gekoppeld aan die van Tsjaikovski. Zo gek nog niet, beide concerten hebben veel gemeen. De uitvoering door Janusz Wawrowski en het Royal Philharmonic Orchestra olv Grzegorz Nowak is net als de concerten zelf: goddelijk mooi

Weinberg en Kremer: match made in heaven?

Gidon Kremer behoort niet tot de violisten die beroemd zijn geworden om hun zoete vioolklank, zoals Itzhak Perlman. Of Michael Rabin. Hij klinkt vaak krasserig en zijn spel is vaak feller dan fel. Het pakt niet altijd goed uit, maar in geval van Weinberg kun je je, denk ik, geen betere vertolker bedenken.

Kremer was één van de eersten die de muziek van Weinberg op de kaart heft gebracht en sindsdien is hij de grootste pleitbezorger van de componist. Aan hem danken we o.a. de onvergetelijke opname van Weinbergs kamersymfonieën en diens pianokwintet (nog niet in huis? Meteen bestellen! ECM 2538/39 4814604).

Zijn enige vioolconcert componeerde Weinberg in 1959 voor Leonid Kogan, maar de eerste uitvoering vond pas twee jaar later plaats. Kogan speelde en Rozjdestvenski dirigeerde. Er zijn maar bar weinig opnamen van het concert (die van Kogan is uit de catalogus) en ik zou hier graag een 10 voor hebben gegeven als ik de opname met Ilya Gringolts onder Jacek Kaspszyk niet kende (Warner 0825646224838). Die is net zo onstuimig, maar hij heeft meer aandacht voor het Joodse sentiment in deel twee.

Madara Pëtersone vergezelt Kremer in de uit 1960 stammende sonate voor twee violen. Het was opgedragen aan de zus van Emil Gilels. Pedersone’s vioolklank is meer dan symbiotisch met die van Kremer waardoor je op bepaald moment naar meer rust verlangt. Maar wie echt fenomenaal is, is de dirigent. Daniele Gatti snapt de muziek wel.

Vioolconcert op. 67; Sonate voor twee violen op. 69
Gidon Kremer, Madara Petersone (viool), Gewandhausorchester Leipzig o.l.v. Daniele Gatti
Accentus ACC30518

Perséphone van Stravinsky. Michael Tilson Thomas of Kent Nagano?

Dat Michael Tilson Thomas affiniteit heeft met de muziek van Stravinsky dat wisten wij al lang. In een interview zei hij ooit zich het leven zonder muziek van Stravinsky niet te kunnen herinneren Niet gek als je bedenkt dat hij op een zeer jonge leeftijd bevriend raakte met de componist. Onder Stravinsky’s supervisie nam hij al de vierhandige versie van Le Sacre du printemps op en zijn cd getiteld ‘Stravinsky in America’ werd overal (terecht!) bejubeld. Dat hij ooit ook de bekendste werken van zijn held zou dirigeren was dus niet meer dan logisch.

Nu doet zich een probleem voor: hoeveel nieuwe opnamen van Het Lenteoffer en De Vuurvogel hebben wij nog nodig? En: wordt er iets wezenlijks aan de al bestaande toegevoegd? Tilson Thomas dirigeert spiritueel en met schwung maar de echte waarde van de box ligt voornamelijk in het derde stuk: Perséphone.

Stravinsky schreef de muziek bij de tekst van André Gide in 1933 op bestelling van Ida Rubinstein. Hij noemde het zelf een melodrama. Het verhaal van Persephone, dochter van Demeter, die in de Hades belandt na het ruiken van de geur van een narcis en één keer per jaar naar de aarde mag terugkeren wordt hier verteld door een spreekster, tenor en verschillende koren en bij de live uitvoeringen komen er nog ballet en pantomime bij.

Perséphone uit Teatro Real de Madrid:

Het stuk wordt nog maar zelden uitgevoerd en er zijn weinig opnamen van. Na Stravinsky zelf, Craft en Kent Nagano is dit de vierde. Vergelijking met Nagano heeft eigenlijk geen zin want beide orkesten zij aan elkaar gewaagd en de koren en de beide dames doen voor elkaar niet onder. Alleen de tenor (Anthony Rolfe-Johnson) vind ik bij Nagano beter.

Tilson Thomas:


L’oiseau de feu, Le Sacre du printemps, Perséphone
Stephanie Cosserat recitante, Stuart Neill tenor,
San Francisco Symphony Chorus, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Ragazzi, The Peninsula Boys Chorus, San Francisco Symphony olv Michael Tilson Thomas

A fascinating introduction to Yitzhak Yedid

YItzhak Yedid cd

A word of warning: it starts with a ‘bang’. If you are not prepared for that, you may get quite a shock. It almost knocked me out of my chair, but the landing afterwards was fortunately on the soft side. Let me put it this way: the ‘bang’ – I assume it is the ‘killul’ (the ‘curse”’) of the title – was a prelude to an interesting story. So you have been warned.

Chad Gadia (the little goat) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano is different. Let me put it this way: the title is an ept one. Delightful. It put a smile on my face.

The piano concerto is different again. I don’t know if I like it, but it is certainly worthwhile, mainly because of the excellent performance. The pianist Michael Kieran Harvey deserves a big compliment for his insanely good execution of the piece. You can hear it best in the very classicist- sounding third movement.

Yitzhak Yedid
Israeli composer Yitzhak Yedid was born in Jerusalem in 1971; his parents were Jewish refugees from Syria. In his music, you can hear the influences of Arab and Jewish rhythms, all combined with free jazz. This is especially evident in the (for me the best and also the most interesting) title composition, Angels Revolt, a chaconne for piano.

But if I may be very honest: I found the introduction absolutely fascinating, but will I ever play the CD again, just for my own pleasure? My advice is: take your time, listen and … who knows?

Angels Revolt
Kiddushim ve´killulim, Chad Gadya, Concerto for piano and strings, Angel´s Revolt
Rachael Shipard, Michael Kieran Harvey (piano)
Christian Lindberg, Graeme Jenkins (conductor)
Betweenthelines BTLCHR71246

Isata Kanneh-Mason honours Clara Schumann

Schumann Isata

To me, ‘diversity’ is just a buzzword that has nothing to do with reality. But because it is almost obligatory now and quotas still have to be met, the classical music business too has had to conform. And I am not talking here about opera characters like Aida or Otello, who contrarily need to be ‘decolorized.’ That is why orchestras and record companies are almost desperately looking for people of colour.

Now don’t understand me wrong: I think diversity is a good thing and I applaud it wholeheartedly, but on one condition: there must be quality! And the quality of the English pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason is high, very high. She is the eldest of the seven Kanneh-Mason children. They are all musicians: four of her siblings study at The Royal Academy of Music, where 22-year-old Isata herself still takes lessons. Her cellist brother Sheku has already preceded her in fame.

Clara Wieck-Schumann was a child prodigy who grew into a piano virtuoso. The fact that she also composed was ignored for a long time: as a mother of eight she was expected to look after them, as well as take care of her famous husband.
On her first CD recording, Isata Kanneh-Mason plays the works that dominated almost all of Clara’s life. She begins, for instance, with the piano concerto that Clara composed when she was just thirteen years old. She played the premiere when she was sixteen, on which occasion Mendelssohn conducted.

Isata Kanneh-Mason plays it with virtuosity and makes the most of it: which is not very much, actually. That is not a bad thing, because when played this way, the concerto is lifted to higher realms. She is excellently accompanied by the Liverpool Orchestra. However, I like the violin romances best, they were composed for Joseph Joachim. Together with violinist Elena Urioste, Kanneh-Mason provides us with an unforgettable experience. Top!