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Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Symphony No. 2 (1932) [19:03]
Symphony No. 5 A Romain Rolland (1938-39) [34:54]
Suite for chamber orchestra (1921) [17:51]
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/James Conlon
rec. Herkulesaal, Residenz, Munich, 2-5 Dec 2003. DDD
CAPRICCIO 67 080 [72:46]

James Conlon has championed the music of many unfashionable composers. His Zemlinsky series with the Gürzenich Orchestra for EMI Classics is outstanding and very collectible. In 1999 he was awarded the International Alexander Zemlinsky Prize for his services worldwide in performing and promoting Zemlinsky's works. There are also isolated discs of Schreker. Conlon has recorded Zemlinsky operas for Capriccio as did Antony Beaumont. He now strikes out in support of Erwin Schulhoff who died in captivity in the Wülzburg Fortress in Bavaria.

There are eight Schulhoff symphonies although the last two never got beyond piano score. The Fifth was written under the shadow of the Munich Agreement and the threat of the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. You can feel this in every cataclysmic bar - especially under the bludgeoning, menace and violence of the first and third movements. The riotous tumult of the third movement can be related to the romping thunderous assault of the Pettersson symphonies and even to the minatory grumbling of Vaughan Williamsí Fourth and Sixth. I wonder if Shostakovich saw this music before writing the Leningrad Symphony. There is a bitter and determined air to the finale which nevertheless strikes me as having rather over-reached its material. The whole work is alive with stirring military atmosphere, brass gestures and gritty attack but all purged of disillusion or sarcastic commentary.

The 1921 Suite is jazzy, soloistic and full of snappy Weimar flavour. There is Ravel-like delicacy in the Valse Boston. A touch of Façade in this.

The Second Symphony is a delicate instrument orchestrated with aural lucidity. It is not neo-classical at least not in the sense of the Parisian Martinů works of that era. There is a sangfroid to the third movement with saxophone and guitar bound up in recollections of Bolero. The finale is a strange kaleidoscope of Mozartian and Beethovenian gestures. Altogether an unresolved oddball work.

This is the second disc in Capriccio's equivalent of Universal's Entartete series. The first is of Viktor Ullmann CD 67 017 (Symphonies 1 and 2)[review]. There is also a Capriccio DVD - Estranged Passengers: In search of Viktor Ullmann.

Schulhoff was a resolute Communist. He obtained Soviet citizenship at the end of the 1930s. His Fourth symphony of 1937 uses the Spanish Civil War poem Dying in Madrid. His Eighth Symphony Heroic Symphony for Marx, Lenin and Stalin used quotations from these three figures in the first movement: We Stand United.

Outstandingly intelligent (and readable!) notes from Andreas Krause. I owe it to Mr Krause that I can tell you that Schulhoff's Sixth Symphony (1940) was premiered in 1946 in Prague as the Soviet occupation began to bite. The Sixth Freedom Symphony is dedicated, like previous symphonies by Gadzhiev and Knipper, to the Red Army.

Overview: plenty of variety; one symphony of violence another of collaged classical influence. An entertaining suite to top things off.

Rob Barnett

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