Ah, the joy of
discovery! In the seemingly endless flow of under-performed
music to appear on recordings, this one stands out as a particular
gem. Just when I thought that the late clarinet works of
Johannes Brahms had brought the program to a close, lo appeareth
these two splendid works by composers heretofore unknown
Walter Rabl lapsed
into obscurity as a composer perhaps by choice, since he
gave up composing at the age of thirty to concentrate on
conducting and coaching singers. Josef Labor, a man of no
less talent, was hampered by his blindness which at the turn
of the century was a far more limiting disability than it
Rabl was not
only a fine composer and conductor, but a scholar as well,
contributing to the first edition of the Denkmäler der
Tonkunst in Österreich while still a doctoral student.
It was his opera Liane which met with great critical
success that was also to signal the end of his career as
a composer. Apparently he was greatly disturbed that his
opera was compared to Wagner, Rabl being a lifelong disciple
The quartet here
is indeed in the Brahmsian mold. Rife with long-arching melodies,
and cast in classical forms, this is the work of a conservative,
traditionalist composer. The music is lovely and full of
freshness, and although it is clearly of Brahms’ lineage,
it is completely original. The Orion Ensemble has done us
a great favor in presenting this work. They play with clarity
of rhythm, excellent intonation and fine balance.
Josef Labor was
left blinded by smallpox at the age of three. Consequently
he was sent to school at Vienna’s Institute for the Blind.
While there he showed a precocious talent for music. He was
taken under wing by Hanover’s King Georg V, who was also
blind. Labor would later become the Royal and Imperial Organist
in 1904. He is known today principally for his organ music.
was never Labor’s direct mentor or teacher, the influence
was tremendous, and the adherence to Brahms’ style is even
more apparent in Labor’s work than in Rabl’s. The quintet
is reflective and somewhat somber with long melodic lines
and an overall sense of calm. It is truly a beautiful work,
the kind of peaceful music that one reserves for solitary
listening, late in the evening. Again, the Orions provide
a fine performance.
are very high, but I must admit that I would have preferred
another venue than a radio studio for the recording. Although
balanced, I really missed the reverberation of a more ambient
room. I wouldn’t say that the sound was boxy in the old Columbia
grey label sense, but ends of movements tend to stop a bit
flat without the bloom that I particularly enjoy. Program
notes are outstanding.
This is a highly
desirable disc, and I can’t imagine that any lover of romantic
chamber music would find this music anything less than pleasing.