Schleiermacher has championed the lesser-known byroads of twentieth-century
music like few others ... although in fairness the UK’s own Ian
Pace springs to mind. With a typically stimulating mix of probing
intellect and an enthusiasm that shines through his polished
playing, Schleiermacher here embarks on an investigation of
the Webern volume of his series, ‘The Viennese School: Teachers
& Followers’. I note MD&G do not use the more accepted
‘Second Viennese School’; I wonder why not?
provides his own booklet notes. Unsurprisingly informed, they
give valuable background to the lesser-known names on the play-sheet.
The handing down of knowledge from teacher to pupil and on,
in turn, to further pupils of pupils, resulted in a dissemination
in which the ties to the original aesthetics are progressively
loosened. Of course there is the problem of who exactly were
these pupils, given that some only came under Webern’s tutelage
for a period as brief only a few weeks.
launch-pad of this disc is the Webern Variations of 1936.
Schleiermacher is very intimate and soft-toned in the first
movement, preferring to emphasise the line in this music. The
attack of the second movement is somewhat blunted by the resonant
acoustic, alas. This is a shame made even more severe when one
considers the expressive final movement – true inter-movement
contrast would have truly made this performance. Pollini
(DG), is the benchmark here, his clarity absolutely crystalline.
Wolpe was only a Webern pupil for about four months; Webern
taught him for free! His Zemach-Suite was written for
the Russian dancer Benjamin Zemach. Its seven movements include
two fugues based on maqamat – Arabian scale-forms. The first
movement (‘Song’) is almost jazzy; a pity the penultimate movement
(‘Complaint’, 5’20) is a bit over-long for its material.
Romanian composer Philipp Herscovici (also known as Filip Gershkovich)
was taught by Berg in 1928, then by Webern from 1935. His was
not a charmed life – most of it was on the run, and on the day
of his scheduled conducting debut the Germans invaded the Soviet
Union and he was forced to flee! Unsurprisingly most of his
works are lost. The brief Frühlingsblumen (‘Spring Flowers’)
is quite heavily Webern influenced, yet has a real playfulness
about it. The Drei Klavierstücke moves from the Waltz
through a Lento processional to a staccato, playful, almost
Spinner studied with Webern from 1935 to 1938, emigrating to
England in 1939.
His Piano Sonata, Op. 3 is a revision of some piano works he
wrote some three years previously. The mode of expression is
acerbic in the first movement (‘Moderato’) while the second
movement moves towards the jaunty. The finale feels hesitant
initially, before moving to firmer ground.
Focke studied initially with Willem Pijper in Amsterdam before moving to Vienna in 1941
to study with Webern. His Tombeau de Vincent van Gogh
is a succession of twenty movements, each inspired by a van
Gogh paining. Only three movements last over a minute and Webernian
concision is marked in the almost aphoristic nature of the writing.
Yet there is jazz there, too (Nos. 1 and 5 for example), Prokofiev
and a final movement that moves towards clusters in the lower
part of the piano. There is much contrast within these movements;
try between the cheeky No. 7 and the elusive No. 8, a sort of
Expressionist Debussy. Stimulating.
Elston was an American pupil of Webern (from 1932-35); Richard
Leich was likewise American and studied around the same period
(1933/4). Elston only wrote one work for solo piano – this one,
a Rondo with a jerky, determined theme that possesses no small
amount of internal energy. Leich’s Pastorale - one could
easily guess the title from the musical surface alone - is,
on the other hand, almost twee.
Humphrey Searle is one of the more famous
names on display here. He studied with Webern for six months
in 1937. His Threnos and Toccata, Op. 14 (one track)
is magnificent. The Threnos has a real sense of the gargantuan
in its sad, oscillating tenor/bass line. A Threnody is sung
in memory of the dead, hence the prevailing atmosphere. The
Toccata is much briefer than its partner - 1’38 as opposed to
seven minutes - and is an appropriately dynamic way with which
This is a disc of great value. Most certainly
students of twentieth-century piano music and of the Second
Viennese School should avail themselves of this without delay.
But such is his dedication, Schleiermacher succeeds in making
this a highly stimulating journey, too. Dabringhaus & Grimm’s
production standards are, as always, of the very highest.