> Stefan Wolpe - Compositions for Piano [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Stefan WOLPE (1902 – 1972)
Sonata No.1 "Stehende Musik" (1925)
Adagio (1920)
Tango (1927)
The Good Spirit of a Right Cause (1942)
Encouragements for Piano (1943/7)
Waltz for Merle (1952)
Zemach Suite (1939)
David Holzman (piano)
Recorded: Sonic Temple, Roslindale, Mass., October 2000, November 2000 and July 2001
BRIDGE 9116 [64:30]


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The earliest pieces here were composed in the 1920s when Wolpe was still in Germany and clearly reflect the Zeitgeist of that period. The short Adagio "Because I must leave something dear to me" was written in 1920 when Wolpe left Weimar to return to Berlin. The slightly ironic Tango (1927) is the sort of thing that Weill or Hindemith, to name but two, could also have written then. The Piano Sonata No.1 "Stehende Musik" ("Music of stasis") is somewhat more experimental, i.e. from the formal point of view in that it emphasises repetition rather than development. All three movements (a long slow movement framed by two short quick explosive ones) are based on repetition: of rhythmic phrases in the outer movements and of melodic lines in the central Fast langsam. The First Piano Sonata is a considerable achievement, technically and physically demanding, and of not inconsiderable strength.

The Zemach Suite (1939) was written for the Russian dancer Benjamin Zemach and his dance group. As might be expected, it is somewhat more accessible than the later pieces, though – again – it is far from easy.

The more recent pieces were all written after Wolpe settled in the States. During the war years, he planned a series of Encouragements, the first number of which is the short march The Good Spirit of a Right Cause (1942) which has its share of dissonance and rugged energy, and which is totally devoid of any jingoism. This and the second item Simple Music with Definitely Political Intentions are reminiscent, so we are told, of anti-fascist songs and marches written a decade earlier in Berlin. The third, and by far the most complex and substantial, item was completed over the period 1943-1947. Encouragements for Piano. First Piece. Battle Piece had a somewhat chequered genesis. Wolpe put the work aside after completing the fourth part. During the preparation of the first performance of the completed sections in which Irma Wolpe and the then young David Tudor were involved, Wolpe decided to complete the score which was eventually first performed complete by David Tudor in 1950. Later the movements were re-ordered and in 1958 Wolpe returned the work to the original order and dedicated it to David Tudor. This is a quite substantial score, terribly exacting from the technical point of view and calling for enormous physical strength on the player’s part. This uncompromising, sometimes unremitting music is constantly tense and muscular though slower episodes allow for some fresh air into the music’s dense and restless textures. I still do not know whether I like this piece or not; but it definitely is a major work that only yields its secrets after many repeated hearings and – I am sure – after many long hours of close examination.

The short Waltz for Merle (1952) included in this selection is only the ghost of a waltz, and a rather enigmatic miniature.

Wolpe’s music is no easy stuff indeed. As already mentioned, it calls for considerable strength on the pianist’s part, and also – more importantly, I think – much conviction. David Holzman has both and his committed readings of these demanding pieces are clearly the result of a painstaking and thorough immersion in Wolpe’s intricate music. A very fine release, indeed, but not an easy nut to crack.

Hubert Culot


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