> Ernst Toch - Cello Concerto, Tanz Suite [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ernst TOCH (1887-1964)
Tanz-Suite Op 30 (1923)
Cello Concerto (1924)
Susanne Müller-Hornbach, cello
Mutare Ensemble
Gerhard Müller-Hornbach
Recorded November 1999
CPO 999 688-2 [56.32]


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The works on this enterprising CPO disc date from Toch’s Mannheim years. He had won the Mozart Prize in 1909 determining him on a career in music against his family’s wishes and had become a composition teacher at the Mannheim Academy of Music in 1913 at the age of twenty-six. Commissioned for a dance class at the Academy given by the Frieda Ursula Beck company the Tanz-Suite was premiered on 19th November 1923 in a performance conducted by Paul Breisach, himself, like Toch Viennese born and later to escape to America as had Toch.

Dance was the exciting medium for young composers and Toch was no exception, spurning the symphony. He wrote for a small ensemble – flute, clarinet, violin, viola, double bass and percussion – in a highly adaptable and forward looking vein, cognizant of Stravinsky, obviously, as well as his own more specifically Viennese influences. The Suite is a twenty-eight minute, six-movement one that embraces a pleasantly wide diversity of moods. The first movement is a cocky, woodland fugue laced with plenty of chromaticisms after an initially tempestuous and arresting start. The second begins with a musing double bass, slowly evolving over muted strings, saturnine and vaguely menacing pizzicati, the clarinet’s mordancies adding its own highly visual adjunct. By contrast the first of the two intermezzi is a cleansing duo between flute and clarinet with its strong hints of the antique and the fourth movement, the Dance of Silence, discloses ostinato double bass and a keening atmosphere. The second intermezzo has some pungent fugato development, shrill soprano sonorities and a generally bumptious air. The final movement, by some way the longest, is also the most intriguing. The hints of Debussy are embedded in a score mixed with a barely concealed effulgent late Romanticism as the dance moves inexorably toward a Viennese waltz and a sunny conclusion.

The Cello Concerto was written for a competition sponsored by Schott Publishing Company. Toch composed it quickly, between October and November 1924, in good time for the competition in 1925 (he’d already won the 1924 competition with his Divertimento for Violin and cello). Dedicated to the cellist Maurits Frank it was premiered by Emanuel Feuermann in July 1925 and so popular was it that the cellist performed it about sixty times in Germany in the next eight years, with conductors such as Klemperer in Berlin and Monteux in Amsterdam. Scored for a chamber orchestra it features the soloist in a primus inter pares role in a work that is a microcosm of contemporary compositional technique. Metres are constantly changing and there is a weight of complex rhythmic difficulty. Whilst the four movements are very broadly classical in design this is no neo-classical jeux d’esprit. Instead it’s a tough, densely argued work the opening movement of which sets the scene for much that is to follow; quixotic harmonies and instrumentation; a novel role for the protagonist, a perplexing air of indistinctness until at 9.45 the solo horn announces a new direction and the movement ends in the cello taking up a romanticized theme. The rather galumphing scherzo (Sorcerer’s Apprentice meets Stravinsky) has a second subject announced by the horn in bold fashion encouraging a scurrying cello until, abruptly, the music seems to end in mid-air. The cello by contrast spins a long cantilena line in the Adagio, laden with an expressive depth that signals that this is the central point of the work and its heart beat. In the finale, which again broadly conforms to the classical formula, a stern figure threatens to turn into a fugato before first ominous percussion and ostinato strings drive the argument still further, embracing a crookedly humorous passage and decisive conclusion.

Performances are good; a convincing case is made for Toch’s plurality of imagination but also the essential concentratedness of his musical aesthetic. This could be stern, involved or quietly humorous; it was also, as in the Cello Concerto, not always immediately explicable. The Cello Concerto involves work, as all serious art does, and if you can cope with the occasionally convoluted astringencies then it makes for demanding but bracing listening.

Jonathan Woolf

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