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Berthold GOLDSCHMIDT (1903-1996)
Passacaglia Op.4 (1925) [6:46]
Comedy of Errors – Overture (1925) [5:30] *
Ciaccona sinfonica (1936) [12:40]
Chronica (1932-1985) [21:41] #
Les Petits Adieux (1994) [8:48] ^
Rondeau (1995) [10:48] %
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Berthold Goldschmidt *
Sinfonieorchester Komische Oper Berlin/Yakov Kreizberg #
François Le Roux (baritone), Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/Charles Dutoit ^
Chantal Juillet (violin), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Berthold Goldschmidt %
rec. 1996.
DECCA LONDON 452 599-2 [66:29] 
 

 


Berthold Goldschmidt is probably best known for his collaboration with Deryck Cooke on Cooke's realisation of Mahler's 10th symphony, or as a mentor to the young Simon Rattle.  There was much more to him than that.  He was a composer who fell through the cracks of a Europe at war.  At the height of his young career, having scored a success with his opera Der gewaltige Hahnrei, he found himself suddenly a non-person in the Nazi state.  He fled to England, but by the time the war was over, a new music of raucous atonality made his uneasy lyricism seem anachronistic.  He battled on as a composer until the late 1950s when, like another lyrical British composer, George Lloyd, he decided that there was no place for his music in the climate of the times and stopped composing for good.  In the 1980s he took it up again, and by the time of his death in 1996, he had won some recognition and begun to find a place on disc. 

This CD is an important document.  It draws together music from across Goldschmidt's career, beginning with his promising youth and ending with a work written only the year before his death.  There is, as you would expect, a shift in style across this vast 70 year time period, but there is also a strength of personal idiom that unites these works. 

The Passacaglia builds and builds, sounding a little like the opening movement to Shostakovich's 10th in its harmonic language, but of course it predates Shostakovich's symphony by a good quarter of a century.  Goldschmidt said of his music that he always had the architecture of a piece in mind when writing it, and the architecture is clear and easy to take in here. 

The next piece on this disc paints a contrasting mood.  Dare I say it?  Yes, I do.  There is a perky Englishness to the jaunty overture to A Comedy of Errors, even if it does predate Goldschmidt's flight to England by a decade.  The piece is delightful, lower voices burbling away under the inanities of the violins.  There is something of Samuel Barber in here, again too early for it to actually be Barber.  There is a touch of Petrushka too.  Goldschmidt's conducting here is affectionate, but it left me wondering what a firmer hand could have made of this piece.  At a stiffer tempo and more sharply etched articulation and dynamics, this would be a rollicking ride – the sort of opener you would want for the last night of the Proms, or any concert, for that matter.  Something to play alongside Malcolm Arnold's overtures: similar in spirit and in the writing for winds. 

Rattle certainly steers with a firmer hand on the tiller in his two contributions to this album, the abovementioned Passacaglia and the Ciaccona Sinfonica.    Rattle's commitment to the music and its composer is intense and evidenced not only by the sounds he draws from his Birmingham band, but also in the fact that he managed to convince EMI to allow him to record this music for Decca's Entartete series.  Rattle gave the first Proms performance of Ciaccona Sinfonica in 1993.  It is essentially a suite for orchestra in three movements, or a freely structured symphony, full of music is rhythmically alive, angularly tuneful and utterly compelling.  There is more than a whiff of Hindemith here, not so much of Hindemith's influence, I suspect, as much as a shared musical background, place and time.  The central andante sostenuto is especially long-breathed and compelling, leading into an uneasy gigue of uncertain key and slight mania. 

Hindemithian sounds appear again in Chronica, and the first movement, Intrada and March Militaire sounds like Hindemith furtively rewriting Petrushka behind Stravinsky's back.  There are Mahlerian touches too.  Kriezberg does a good job with the score, bringing pep to the faster music and painting Goldschmidt's delicate textures beautifully in the slower music.  He is a little undercharacterised, though.  For example, his reading of the Scherzo subtitled “Propaganda” seems a little straight-faced. 

Orchestral textures seem thicker, though not necessarily heavier, in the song cycle Les Petits Adieux.  In the absence of texts, I do cannot really figure out what François Le Roux is singing about, but he seems regretful and slightly angry.  These songs suit his light baritone, though his rapid vibrato may not be to all tastes.  The songs themselves are lush and beautiful, like something between Mahler and Berg.  Dutoit's Montreal forces play very well here, with the brass especially distinctive. 

The disc closes with a romance for violin, played with feeling by Chantal Juliet.  It opens with the violin alone, with only the occasional pizzicato chord behind her.  Then the winds join.  It begins as long breathed lyrical phrases of ambiguous tonality, but becomes more vigorous in its uncertainly about the 2.30 mark.  As with the opening piece on the disc, this Rondeau is a tightly composed structure with a clear architectural plan.  If it is not the deepest music, it is still engaging and memorable. 

It is obvious why this music was suppressed by the Nazis.  The composer's surname on the title page was the only part of the score they needed to see.  His neglect in Britain is more puzzling, but relatively easily explained.  Goldschmidt made the cataclysmic choice to continue writing music in a tonal idiom at a time when atonality ruled.  Tonality has since come back into fashion, and  number of British composers have begun to enjoy a revival. Goldschmidt, like that other naturalised British European exile, Andrzej Panufnik, has not managed to catch that wave yet, being not quote British enough.  Hopefully that will change.  His music may not seem as original now as once it did, but it is individual and shot through with wit and a melancholy beauty. 

My review copy of this Arkiv CD did not come with liner notes, which are sorely missed for a release like this of relatively unfamiliar music.  I understand, though, that Arkiv now provides liner notes with its CD-Rs.  I would bet that they are fascinating. 

If you care about the music of the last century and missed this disc when first released, you should order it from Arkiv without delay.  It will more than tickle your interest and you will find yourself wanting to play it again and again, as I have.
 

Tim Perry

 

 


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