Kurt ROGER (1895-1966)
Chamber Music: Quintet for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, Cello op. 116 (1966) [21:22]; Piano Sonata op. 43 (1943) [18:22]; Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, op. 77 (1953) [12:46]; Variations on an Irish Air for Flute, Cello and Piano op. 58 (1948) [22:57]
Robert Plane (clarinet); Emily Beynon (flute); Mia Cooper, Lucy Gould (violin); David Adams (viola); Alice Neary (cello); Benjamin Frith (piano)
rec. 9-10 March, 12-14 May and 1 June 2009, Champs Hill, Pulborough, West Sussex, England. DDD
NAXOS 8.572238 [75:28]

I have to confess to never having heard Kurt Rogerís music before this disc arrived on my doorstep. Born in Austria, he studied with Schoenberg - although was not a disciple of the twelve-tone system. He later taught at the Vienna Conservatoire for fifteen years, before emigrating to American during the Nazi regime.

His musical style is a curious combination of traditional and forward-looking; the opening movement of the Clarinet Quintet is a moderately-paced Allegro, which is stylistically reminiscent of a combination of Tchaikovsky and Mahler. The central movement is deeply romantic in essence and brings to mind early Schoenberg. The music is lyrical, expressive and slightly nostalgic. This work was written shortly before the composerís death in 1966 and shows a maturity of style, with its elements fully integrated to create a convincing whole. The final movement has a distinctive flair, with fugal entries and dense polyphony. The playing is excellent throughout, with Robert Planeís silky clarinet sound providing a wonderful additional timbre to the polished strings.

Written some twenty years earlier, while Roger was living in New York, the Piano Sonata is in a lighter style but is no less expressive. Beginning with a dramatic Toccata, the work incorporates styles from earlier eras, and Benjamin Frith performs with well-placed sensitivity. The central movement demonstrates an influence from Debussy and creates an atmospheric sound-world full of subtleties and nuances. The final movement, entitled Phantasmagoria is highly dramatic and captures the imagination, travelling through different fantasy worlds. This is a highly agreeable work which is delivered here with panache.

The Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello has a cheerful and somewhat triumphant opening movement, with strong melodic lines and an ebullient character. The central movement is more introspective and serious, with rich harmonies and at times an almost improvisatory feel. The short final movement returns to the jovial mood of the opening, and is more playful and full of charm.

The final work on the disc is the Variations on an Irish Air, which captivates from Emily Beynonís stunning opening flute solo. There is a sense of nostalgia here, and the folk-like melody lends itself to Rogerís style. The well-known melody is subjected to various treatments, orchestrations and harmonisations throughout the work and has an element of fantasy in the composerís explorations. The playing here is excellent throughout, giving a wonderful characterisation to the variations and a sound which is beautifully balanced between the instruments.

This CD presents Rogerís music in the best possible way, with committed performers who reach high standards throughout. This is an excellent introduction to his music, demonstrating the breadth of his talents as a composer and effectively conveying the emotional content of his works.

Carla Rees