The loose unifying theme of twentieth century concertos - mainly for flute and viola - or at least concertante works, by Jewish-born composers, underlies this selection of four works. Arco Diva’s opening paragraph gives us a lineage from Mendelssohn and Alkan to Rolf Liebermann in which piquant sound worlds are encountered – Milhaud’s harmonica and marimba for instance – though it strikes me that not a few Gentiles have come forward with such succulent sounds too, and that Arco Diva’s composers are so divergent and represent such different time periods and stylistic affinities that one should, rather, just view the works as a decently constructed programme devoid of any overreaching racial theme. That’s how I’m looking - or not looking - at it anyway.
László Weiner (1916-44) – not to be confused with his contemporary and better known compatriot Leó Weiner - was a Hungarian who studied with Kodály at the Budapest Academy from 1934 to 1940. A pianist and conductor, he was shipped off to the camp in Lukov where he died at the age of 28, despite Kodály’s efforts to get him freed. The Concerto for Flute, Viola, Piano and String Orchestra was written in 1941 and first performed the following January. In 1965 the work was re-published. It’s a broadly neo-classical piece patterned after Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto; springy, lightly orchestrated, with the piano dancing through the flute’s Elysian lines, whilst the viola evokes more nostalgic, indeed folkloric lines. These three voices actually work well, despite the seeming incongruity. The tranquil slow movement gradually darkens somewhat, whilst the finale – imagine Vaughan Williams crossed with Kodály - is zestful.
Much longer-lived was Leon Klepper (1900-91), a Romanian and trained architect who opted instead for music, though he had accompanied Enescu at the piano so was clearly no mug at the age of eighteen. He studied with Schreker in Berlin but was expelled from the Hochschule, went on to Joseph Marx in Vienna and then Schoenberg, privately. Later he studied composition with Dukas and piano with Cortot. After the war he emigrated to Israel and this Concertino for Flute, Viola and String Orchestra was the first work he wrote after his arrival there in 1960. It’s certainly attractive, with hints of lingering impressionism in the first of the three movements and a yearningly clean-limbed, quite intense expression in the central one. Pawky humour surfaces in the finale, possibly Shostakovich influenced, with a genuinely emphatic end. As with the Weiner, the solo writing is well apportioned.
Bloch’s Concertino needs rather less in the way of introduction. Its brief dance, archaisms and very lovely lyricism are well performed here – so too, the genially amusing and fun Polka with which he ends the work: all this in eight minutes. Finally we reach Ervin (or Erwin) Schulhoff, another composer who, these days, has been increasingly well served on disc. His Concerto doppio
for Flute, Piano and Chamber Orchestra dates from 1927. This is a concerto grosso in modern guide with alternating solo and ripieno sections. It reminds one somewhat of Honegger. The flute goes on one especially virtuosic spree whilst the slow movement is communing, and the finale full of verve. Still, Schulhoff had yet to establish a truly individual voice, however fluent the writing.
I’m indebted to the notes for useful biographical information. The Slovak Cappella Istropolitana is directed by Kaspar Zehnder, the excellent flautist-soloist. His colleagues acquit themselves equally well and Moyzes Hall in Bratislava proves a warmly congenial acoustic.
A decently constructed programme.