Here we have another welcome Louisville retrieval
care of First Edition. Toch is faring increasingly well on CD
but these pioneering recordings will nevertheless be welcomed
even by those who may have collected, say, the Gerard Schwarz
performance of the Fifth Symphony on Naxos 8.558417 or the rival
Alun Francis on CPO 999 389-2. Both in fact are better played
technically than the Louisville-Whitney but these Whitney-Mester
performances retain their place by virtue of their zest and
If we start with
the Fifth, or Jephta, Rhapsodic Poem (Symphony No.5)
Op.89 as it’s more properly known, we can affirm the Whitney
virtues and yet still note associated deficiencies. The orchestra
sounds well staffed but occasionally comes under considerable
pressure to which it does succumb. The recording allows no bloom
so that the violins can sound starved and rather shrill. Still,
the direction is fulsome, committed and still impressive. With
the coursing lament being subjected to explosive interjections
this is an intensely dramatic utterance. Toch cleaves close
to Late-Romanticism and utilises plenty of intriguing and fruitful
sonorities handling strings, winds and percussion with equal
dexterity and ear for balance and colour. The Louisville’s very
distinctive trumpet principal is evident once again – his fat,
pungent tone enlivens many a disc made at this time. And Toch’s
cultivation of moments of Mahlerian angularity register deeply
and toughly. The close is an indication of quite far Toch had
by now absorbed Mahlerian models without being annihilated by
them – indeed whilst proving how much they enriched his vocabulary.
is subtitled A Fairy Tale For Orchestra. Written in 1956
it bristles with post-Straussian rhetoric but allows gentle
figuration for the fairy realm in the central of the three movements.
We can hear the orchestra flagging rather in the finale, where
they nevertheless still convincingly convey some of the more
pawky sonorities whilst simultaneously failing to keep strict
orchestral discipline. A better case is made for the work by
the North German Radio Symphony under Leon Botstein on New World
CD 80609-2 where it’s coupled with the First Piano Concerto,
Big Ben and Pinocchio – an excellent disc. Notturno
dates from a few years earlier and is a languorous and rather
Francophile piece, strong on evanescence without ever courting
thinness either of material or sonority. The more expressionist
agitation later on, in any case, demonstrates the power of Toch’s
palette. The Miniature Overture actually opens the programme.
It’s the only pre-War piece, a 1932 opus and is full of punchy
self-confidence and brassy rhetoric. The notes err when they
suggest this dates from Toch’s Hollywood years – he wasn’t quite
So, yes, competition
has caught up with a couple of these important works and it
won’t do to pretend otherwise. Nevertheless these pioneering
recordings reek of commitment and energy and are deserving of
a warm welcome back to the market after so long an absence.
and Rob Barnett
Toch was a Viennese
whose musical gifts were to thrive in the same milieu as Klimt,
Berg, Rilke, Adorno, Schoernberg and Freud. He served - as did
Wittgenstein - in the Austrian army during the Great War. He
embraced a measure dissonance but it is a loose embrace admitting
of a shifting amicable congress between melody and dissonance.
He fled his homeland in 1933 and via a two year stay in London
ended up in America. He wrote for Hollywood but had no big breakthroughs
and the serious commissions were sparse.
Overture is one of those work of the 1930s that has a foot
planted firmly in the 1920s. It is scored sparsely and scathingly
for wind ensemble. This is caustic music with a vitriolic edge,
cheery but sardonic - the equivalent of Grosz's drawings of
Berlin nightlife although written in Hollywood.
For the composer
of the Pinocchio overture it is no surprise to encounter
his tripartite Peter Pan. However the Barrie character
has been tacked on as an afterthought. Pan was not in Toch's
mind when he wrote the piece on a Koussevitsky commission at
the MacDowell Colony. Now we are back to the orchestral milieu.
There is a laughing even guffawing and hiccuping allegro
giocoso. Then comes a fragmented and wispy Molto tranquillo.
To conclude comes a chromium and quicksilver, flighty and restless
Allegro vivo with pawky brass commentary for contrast.
Toch's caustic and edgy style carries over from the Miniature
Overture. Do not expect dreamy impressionism.
was also written at the MacDowell Colony. Its mood is linked
with the Molto tranquillo of the Peter Pan Fairy
Tale. Evanescence and the night are suggested. There is less
here of the acidic and more of that elusive and evasive mood
between nostalgia and mystery. The orchestration is jewelled
and carefully weighted. The long tense lyrical violin lines
reminded me of William Alwyn (Lyra Angelica, Symphonies
1, 4 and 5) and of the grander Hindemith (Nobilissima Visione,
Sinfonia Serena, Harmonie der Welt and Mathis
The Symphony No.
5 is also known as Jephta - Rhapsodic Poem. The recording
was made in stereo in 1965 two years after it had been written
and the year after Toch's death. It is the most recent recording
here. This is a single movement symphony in Toch's serious vein
- an extension and supercharging of the atmosphere in Notturno
with a more marked dramatic activity. Even so the chamber
textures and solos which are so much part of Toch's orchestral
apparatus are fully present. The feminine chamber treatment
contrasts with the vitriolic-dip of the trumpet and a chuckling
figure - something of a Toch DNA strand - related to the allegro
giocoso of the Peter Pan piece but which somehow
does not suggest laughter.
This is not the
first time that Jephta has been issued on CD. It appeared
in the late 1980s on one of a small clutch of Albany CDs coupled
with works by Roy Harris.
These are all from
analogue tapes which have been tended attentively in storage.
The Louisville sound
seems to have been honestly captured but it must be said that
the strings tend less to honey and more to vinegar. This is
somehow fitting for Toch's jaundiced worldview.
Just over forty-five
minutes is short commons for a CD but Matt Walters has admirably
stuck unwaveringly to his one composer per disc approach. The
integrity is unquestionable - it's a feature of these downright
honest discs - but it will limit the market to already committed
Tochists. So be it. Their ranks are surely growing.