Gene GUTCHË (1907-2000)
Theme and Variations, op.6 no.2 (1949) [20:32]
Fugue in C minor, op.3 (1948) [3:58]
Utilitarian Fugue, in D minor, op.9 (1948) [4:14]
Piano Sonata, op.32 no.1 (1963) [11:10]
Piano Sonata, op.32 no.2 (1963) [12:00]
Matthew McCright (piano)
rec. Carleton College Concert Hall, Northfield, Minnesota, 29-30
November 2010. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 3150 [51:54]
US pianist Matthew McCright's booklet notes describe Gene Gutchë
as a German composer, presumably on the grounds that
he was born in Berlin. His mother was Polish, however, and his
father French, hence the unusual-looking name: born Romeo Eugène
Gutschë, he later - probably wisely - dropped the 'Romeo', then
shortened the Eugène and finally, when he had relocated permanently
to the USA as a composer, dropped the -s- from his surname in
the reasonable belief that it would be easier for Americans
Gutchë wrote a reasonable quantity of music - his career trajectory
was unusual in that he eschewed teaching, conducting and performing
- but after a fruitful couple of decades in which his music
was widely performed, he went out of fashion in the Seventies,
and this seems to be only the second CD of his music, and the
first for a decade - following a volume of orchestral music
in the 'American Masters' series on the Composers Recordings
Inc label (review).
CRI went bust a few years ago, incidentally, and their entire
catalogue, containing numerous fascinating and unique recordings,
has now been digitised and published by New World Records. The
full catalogue list is here.
Very handily, the scores of all of the works on this CD - and
many more besides - can be downloaded for free in PDF format
from a website about Gutchë's life and music maintained by The
Schubert Club, who also underwrote the disc. The scores can
be accessed from the list of Gutchë's works here.
McCright's recital opens with the Theme and Variations, Gutchë's
longest work for solo piano by some distance, and what the Schubert
Club site not immodestly describes as a "concert piece
waiting to be discovered." In fact there are eight variations
and a fugue, the lyrical whole somewhat reminiscent of Beethoven
- at least in spirit - before turning over to Chopin for the
last two variations, finally concluding with a powerful fugue
- bringing the listener back to the darker world of Beethoven
and his great predecessor - in which McCright maintains the
momentum and builds the drama very well.
After the momentous fugal finale of the Theme and Variations
come two more modest Fugues, the neo-Bachian C minor and the
more loosely fugal, deliciously titled Utilitarian, which is
far more redolent of Gutchë's teacher Ferruccio Busoni.
There are three Piano Sonatas by Gutchë in total, all from 1963:
two published as op.32, and one, for some reason, as op.6. As
this CD is rather desperately short, it is not self-evident
why the latter was not also recorded by Centaur and McCright.
In any case, the two Sonatas op.32 appear to have been Gutchë's
final thoughts for the piano - from here onwards he concentrated
on orchestral music. They are similar works, as might be expected
from their opus number and timings, both laconic, tonally ambiguous
three-movements-in-one affairs with plenty of variety, imagination
and melody set off by attractive dissonance within their more
orthodox fast-slow-fast frameworks.
Though McCright glosses over some of Gutchë's often quite detailed
playing instructions, especially dynamics - frequently ignoring
pp/ppp, for example - he nevertheless gives a
decent account of Gutchë's appealing rather than compelling
music. The accompanying booklet is not brilliant - there is
not very much of it - but it just about covers the important
bases, though perhaps it shades into superfluous detail about
McCright. Sound quality, on the other hand, is very good.
All in all, a CD with nearly half an hour of blank space is
difficult to recommend wholeheartedly, but that caveat aside,
McCright's neutral playing style and Gutchë's well-formed music
are sure to unite most tastes.
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