This is a useful compilation of Schulhoff’s piano works but it’s
very much not
the last word – not by any means. On the
plus side there is some considerable ground covered and we get
the necessarily speculative Jazz Improvisations of 1926, of which
more later. On the debit side some of the performances are devitalised.
The First Sonata was dedicated, of all people, to Thomas Mann. As to this performance,
it can certainly be taken ‘otherwise’ as Klemperer used to observe of Bruno Walter’s
Mahler. The first movement clusters are well done, and the somewhat Regerian
slow movement gets its due, in its staunchly chromatic way. The pugnaciously
rollicking finale is the most arresting movement. In all, though, my recommendation
is Kathryn Stott’s more energising performance (BISCD1249) – apart from the sonata
there is no overlap between her single CD and this two disc set.
The Grotesques should be etched deeper and sharper than they are here – the performance
of the last is the best of the five. A similar sense of under-characterisation
afflicts the Burlesques. The lightning reactions of the fourth (Leicht und
) is probably the best interpreted. The Third Sonata ends the first
disc, and its dreamlike quasi-improvisatory is adeptly caught as is the dark-hued
funeral march that permeates the fourth movement.
In the Pittoresken she comes up against Tomáš Víšek on Supraphon (11 1870-2 131)
by whom she is, to be frank, outclassed. She is discursive, losing the rhythm
in the first, lumpy and unconvincing in the second, where there is no Ragtime
taste at all, and heavy booted all the way through. Enough said, I’m afraid.
You have to turn to the Czech player to have any inkling of how these pieces
should go. In the Ironies Margarete Babinsky is joined by Maria Lettberg. The
final Foxtrot should have far more brio than here but the presence of Lettberg
is beneficial, one feels. The Jazz Improvisations see her teamed with Andreas
Wykydal. Schulhoff performed jazz piano duets on Prague radio broadcasts from
1930 until 1935. He composed one part and the second pianist improvised over
and around it. Two of the most popular – Butterfly, and Midnight Spooks - are
amongst the eight performed here. The former is decidedly Ježek-inspired – a
sort of cut price Bugatti Step
– but Musical Flips sounds far too busy
in this attempt at emulating the heady days of Schulhoff and his colleague Oldrich
Leftus. These ingenious pieces are fun but I’d query the harmonies in the Blues
movement [CD 2 tr. 18] which sound to me to be far too advanced for the period.
It’s all a bit so-so, and sadly reflective of the set as a whole.