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Continental Britons - The Émigré Composers
CD 1
Egon WELLESZ (1885-1974)

Octet Op.67 (1948) [30:48]
Geistliches Lied (Sacred Song) for medium voice, violin, viola and piano Op.23 (1918/19) [9.29]
Kirschblütenlieder (Cherry Blossom Songs) from the Japanese-style poems of Hans Bethge Op.8 (1911) [6:06] (Sehnsucht nach der Nachtigall; Der Blütenzweig; Blütenschnee; Leichtes Spiel; Blüten)
Leopold SPINNER (1906-1980)

Zwei Kleine Stücke (Two Small Pieces) for violin and piano (1934) [5:22]
Berthold GOLDSCHMIDT (1903-1996)

Fantasy for oboe, cello and harp (1991) [11.41]
Peter GELLHORN (1912-2004)

Intermezzo for violin and piano (1937) [4.28]
Vilém TAUSKÝ (1910-2004)

Coventry - A Meditation for string quartet (1941) [8.19]
CD 2
Hans GÁL (1890-1987)

Violin Sonata in B-flat minor Op.17 (1920) [23:59]
Fünf Melodien (Five Songs) for medium voice and piano Op.33 (1917-21) [11:59]
(Vergängliches; Der Wiesenbach; Vöglein Schwermut; Drei Prinzessinnen; Abend auf dem Fluss)
Berthold GOLDSCHMIDT (1903-1996)

The Old Ships (James Elroy Flecker) (1952) [4.31]
Mátyás SEIBER (1905-1960)

Violin Sonata Op. 17 (1960) [16:37]
Franz REIZENSTEIN (1911-1968)

Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (1934) [11:42]
Karl RANKL (1898-1968)

War – eleven songs Op.10 (1939-42) (No. 4 They; No. 5 Böhmisches Rekrutenlied) [3:39]
Seven Songs for baritone and piano op.6 (1939-42) (No. 6 The Whim) [3.39]
Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt (Dietmar Wiesner (flute); Catherine Milliken (oboe); Roland Diry (clarinet); Karl Ventulett (bassoon); Silke Schurack (horn); Manon Morris (harp); Freya Ritts-Kirby (violin); Thomas Hofer (violin); Susan Knight (viola); Eva Böcker (cello); Bruno Suys (double-bass))
Nurit Pacht (violin); Konstantin Lifschitz (piano)
Christian Immler (baritone); Erik Levi (piano)
Paul Silverthorne (viola)
rec. live, Wigmore Hall, London, June 2002. From a series of concerts sponsored and organised by Andante and the JMI International Forum for Suppressed Music. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5730/1 [76:46 + 76:38]


This is a fascinating and far too easily overlooked gallimaufry of chamber works by German and Austrian composers who were émigrés to the UK in the 1930s. The music was written both before and after their arrival so some of it reflects probably happier times in Germany and Austria.

For the record, Reizenstein arrived in England in 1934, Gellhorn, Seiber and Goldschmidt in 1935, Gal in 1938, Rankl, Wellesz and Spinner in 1939 and Tauský in 1940.

Wellesz’s Octet touched with tangy discord is for clarinet, bassoon, horn, string quartet and double-bass. Its rumbling bass-accented sound is full of life, lived in grand and confident style with resolute Beethovenian moments and absolutely nothing of Weimar’s nightlife. Any tendency towards atonal highlights is held at bay in a English pastoral andante that suddenly shrivels on the bough into something heavy with portent. The fifth movement – the finale – bustles along à la Smetana, full of bonhomie. It is not the work’s first recording. The Vienna Octet recorded it in the early 1970s on Decca Ace of Diamonds SDD 316 with the Henk Badings Octet.

The Geistliches Lied is a sumptuous piece of slow-flowering late-romanticism – part-Korngold and part-Mahlerian Abschied – from the end of the Great War. It is beautifully rounded and paced by Christian Immler and friends. The Cherry Blossom Songs are for voice and piano and are in a lissom and succulent Debussian idiom. These very songs will also appeal to those who love the Howells songs. Only in the final song of the five does the 26 year old Wellesz lean over the Schoenbergian ledge to embrace a cloud of glisteningly honeyed Klimtian dissonance.

Spinner is little known on record and not that well known in other contexts. He has however been profiled in the illustrious B&H house journal Tempo edited by Malcolm Macdonald. His two pieces for violin and piano predate his flight to England by five years. They adopt the fragmented kaleidoscope of dissonance beloved of Schoenberg. He was being taught at the time by Paul Pisk, himself a Schoenberg pupil.

The long-lived Goldschmidt wrote his single movement Fantasy only five years before his death. It is a luxurious work despite the small forces which are expertly used. It radiates a sense of Arcady and is as opulently allusive as Bax’s Elegiac Trio. Goldschmidt has some claims to popularity – even rating a live concert broadcast of his Violin Concerto on Classic FM a decade or so ago.

Peter Gellhorn’s yielding and enchanting little Intermezzo was written for Maria Lidka who was at one time a regular on the BBC Third Programme. She performed the Joubert and Fricker violin concertos and premiered the Reizenstein violin sonata in 1946. The Intermezzo is most affectingly spun by Pacht and Lifschitz. Gellhorn became a much featured choral conductor on the BBC. He participated in broadcasts of Holst’s Cloud Messenger, Rubbra’s In Die et Nocte Canticum and much else.

Surely it is only Tauský’s reputation as a conductor that held the Coventry Meditation back from fame, affection and repeat performances. Some people have great difficulty in accepting multi-talented people and Tauský’s modesty cannot have helped. It was written after the devastating bombing of Coventry and is based on the St Wenceslas Chorale as indeed is Josef Suk’s Meditation. The Tauský is a soulful and elegiac piece with only a gentle veneer of dissonance separating it from the Howell’s Elegiac Meditation. It is most haunting and poignantly original.

Gál’s 1920 Violin Sonata is another melodically self-assured piece unashamedly recalling at various times the grandeur of Franck, Bruch and early Foulds. This is uncompromisingly warm and romantic writing with none of the modernistic tendencies of Spinner or Wellesz. Back to the safe hands of Christian Immler for five modestly modernised Schubertian songs straddling the year 1918. Two of them pick up on the Oriental fashion engendered by the Hans Bethge translations of Chinese poetry. These songs recall the very attractive Granville Bantock examples to be heard on a Dutton selection issued in 2004.

We return briefly to Goldschmidt for his setting of Old Ships by James Elroy Flecker whose play Hassan was provided with incidental music by Delius in 1920. This dreamy and mistily-paced setting can also be heard in orchestrated form in the composer’s 1959 Mediterranean Songs.

Mátyás Seiber died in a road accident in South Africa in 1960 which was also the year of his three movement Violin Sonata. It is a tough piece; not tough in the Spinner sense. Obdurately impressionistic, its fragmented accents are those of Verklärte Nacht. Tough going for resolute souls.

Reizenstein’s compact little four movement wind quintet dates from the year of his arrival in the UK. It is spirited and in a fairly objective but entertainingly clean-focus Hindemithian manner. Reizenstein was one of Hindemith’s favoured pupils and this is most easily acknowledged in the playfully effervescent finale.

Rankl, for long associated with the Scottish National Orchestra from its early days, wrote fascinating orchestral works including some fine symphonies. The Fourth Symphony which I know from a rather distressed broadcast tape is impressively brightly coloured. In They Rankl sets Siegfried Sassoon with music that responds minutely to every colour and twist and turn of the text. The same responsive reins between sung words and piano part can be heard in the mercurial The Whim to a poem by Thomas Flatman.

The useful notes are a cooperative affair with Martin Anderson, Simon Fox and Eva Fox-Gál, Lewis Foreman, Boosey and Hawkes, Erik Levi, Anon, Calum MacDonald, and Philip Ward all weighing in and all to good and informative effect.

You can imply who plays what but personnel allocations are not absolutely clear from the booklet or insert. It is a pity that these details could not have been listed explicitly. I would also have welcomed a single width case rather than the dumpy standard double width; mind you the substantial English-only booklet might have been a squeeze in a single case. Slightly more seriously the words of the songs are not provided in the booklet -[see footnote].

This is an eye-opening set and not to be missed if you have any curiosity about the music of the 1930s diaspora and its impact on the countries to which these gifted refugees fled. I trust that Nimbus will consider a sequel. If funds permit an orchestral set would be well worthwhile. Until then do not miss this double CD issue.

Rob Barnett

We have been informed by Nimbus that there is an insert for the song texts in NI5730/1 which was omitted from the set under review. If anyone else is missing this important insert they should get in touch with Nimbus


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