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Piano Concertos of the 1920s, Vol. 2
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1893-1942)

Concerto for Piano and small Orchestra (1923) [18:42]
George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)

A Jazz Symphony for Piano and Orchestra (1927) [12:52]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra (1925) [32:24]
Michael Rische (piano)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Wayne Marshall (Antheil, Gershwin)
West German Radio Symphony Orchestra of Cologne conducted by Gunther Schuller (Schulhoff)
Schulhoff concerto recorded Dec 15-17, 1993 at Cologne Philharmonic Hall
Antheil and Gershwin Concertos recorded Dec 2002 and Feb 2003, Jesus-Christus Church, Berlin
ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 82876 51051 2 [64:23]


Musically the early years of the 20th Century constituted one of the most exciting and productive eras ever, and this was especially true of the 1920s when innovation was a truly dynamic and creative force. One of the most singular developments that helped to define those inter-war years was the attempt to inject jazz-inspired themes into "classical" music. This was no gimmick but a genuine desire on behalf of many composers to pay homage to jazz, the new music genre of the new century, and the three composers on this disc show how successful this "fusion" was. Stravinsky, Honegger, Copland, Ravel and others all did their bit to take this exciting new music into their classical compositions. The fruits of their writing in this sphere have earned their place in the pantheon of works heard in the concert hall and through recordings. It is surprising to note, therefore, that the Schulhoff concerto was heard only three times in the 1920s until its German premiere in 1993, whilst the Antheil concerto only had its London premiere on 5 March 2001!

It is sad to learn that Ervin Schulhoff is one of those group of composers lost to the world through the Holocaust, having been one of a number of Czech composers sent to their deaths by the Nazis. Anyone who has heard any of his music or that of Krasa, Haas and Klein, for example, will be only too aware of the fantastic talent of which the musical world has been robbed as a result of such madness.

Schulhoff was already an established composer at the time of his death in Wolfsburg prison in 1942, and this concerto shows off his inventiveness perfectly. Entitled "Concerto for Piano and small Orchestra" it has a big sound, nevertheless, helped by the inclusion of no less than eighteen percussion instruments, including Japanese wooden drum, laughing devil (!), car horn, torpedo siren and anvil. Covering a great deal of ground in its brief 18 minute length the concerto begins with a sound world that readily brings to mind the closing years of the 19th century, with tones and colours identifiable with Debussy, with woodwind and strings creating a heady mix of sensual, impressionist sound paintings. The second movement continues with this idea with notes appearing to ascend from the depths like bubbles rising to the surface. Suddenly with the final movement we are very definitely brought smack bang into the 20th century with sensuality replaced by a hard-edged frenetic energy and an almost manic dance-like theme; the jazz inspiration here being that of Ragtime with its heavy syncopation and dynamic showy style. The musical manipulation in this movement of all the varied and exotic percussion is absolutely masterful and thoroughly exciting. After hearing this concerto Iím sure you will find it incomprehensible, as I did, that it has remained a hidden gem for so many decades. It is to be hoped that this recording will find the success it deserves and bring this work into the concert hall where it belongs.

George Antheilís "jazz symphony for Piano and Orchestra" of 1927 begins with a Mexican sounding theme full of brash brass reminiscent of Coplandís "El salon Mexico", with a charlestonesque tune cutting across, the piano providing a punctuating presence of its own. All these elements become increasingly integrated, then a solo trumpet plays a bluesy tune against a mechanical sounding orchestral accompaniment and with a banjo picking out a bit of pure dixieland. A waltz played on the piano with the orchestra joining in completes the concerto in brilliant fashion. Despite all the disparate influences on display in this work, all of them belonging to the Americas, it is nonetheless fascinating to note that both in this work and that of Weill, Eisler and others, there is a particular "German" sound in all German composersí attempts to introduce jazz into their music. This is no doubt due in part to the particular interpretation of jazz played in the night clubs of Berlin at the time these works were written, and which was epitomised so effectively in the film "Cabaret".

George Gershwinís "Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra" of 1925 shows a real love for and understanding of jazz, and, being American, Gershwin had a great deal more exposure to the world of jazz than either of the other two composers on this disc, effective though their concertos are. This concerto has a true jazz feel running right through it and, unlike the other two compositions, it stormed its way into the publicís heart from the outset and became a runaway success and has remained so ever since. Its first movement is so chock full of energy that its quite breathtaking. The second movement is restrained with a beautiful blues theme introduced by the orchestra then picked out by the trumpet. The piano then comes in with a cheeky and jaunty tune that reminded me of Gershwinís "Walking the dog". The trumpet reintroduces the blues again and it is joined by the piano and then by the orchestra. The final movement, marked Ďallegro agitato isí, as it implies, fast and furious and full of the brilliance that we know Gershwin for.

Michael Rische as soloist in all three concertos brings each of them off with panache and commitment in equal measure. Both orchestras and conductors do the music proud and make this a thoroughly enjoyable disc.

Steve Arloff

 

 



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