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The 20th Century Concerto Grosso
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Concerto doppio for flute, piano, string orchestra, and two horns, WV 89 (1927) [19:22]
Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Concertino for flute, violin, piano, and string orchestra, Op. 27 (1924) [22:06]
Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
Concert for piano, flute, and cello and string orchestra, Op. 89 (1926) [20:13]
Maria Prinz (piano); Karl-Heinz Schütz (flute)
Christoph Koncz (violin); Robert Nagy (cello)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
rec. St John’s, Smith Square, London; 21-23 September 2012
CHANDOS CHAN10791 [61:41]

I was drawn to this recording by the d’Indy piece, having found the five volumes dedicated to his orchestral works so far published on Chandos to be one of the best series of the last decade. I did think the rich, romantic world of his music was an odd choice as disc mate to the neo-classical works of Schulhoff and Krenek but I could see the point in terms of chronology and instrumentation. I had assumed that Sir Neville Marriner, age 88 at the time of recording, had put down his baton, not having seen any recent recordings, but here he was re-united with his beloved Academy of St Martin in the Fields, 54 years after founding it.
Erwin Schulhoff was Czech, of Jewish descent and a Communist sympathiser, a combination which unsurprisingly led to his demise in a Nazi death camp. He was a member of the avant-garde, influenced by the Dadaists, jazz and the Second Viennese school - without embracing serialism - but his music remained connected to tonality, if inflected with significant dissonance. This double concerto was one of a number of his works that could be classified as “concerto grosso”, and was written for performance by himself and a flautist friend. It is very much of its era: centred on rhythm and not melody, alternating harsh, brittle sections with jazzy snatches. The Andante goes into some bleak areas indeed. I can’t say that it particularly grabbed me, but nor did it repel me. Perhaps it might reveal its charms more on further listening, but I somehow doubt it.
I had only heard of Ernest Krenek, and had not heard any of his music. I did read in the typically accessible but well-researched sleeve notes that he experimented with most styles of 20th century music, including serialism, which rather worried me, until I found that this period was much later. The 1920s were spent in Paris, and his neo-classical works of this period were under the influence of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. The concertino immediately shows itself to be of much more rounded edges than the Schulhoff, with an interplay between the three solo instruments that displays the elegance, grace and humour that characterises the whole work. There is a clear jazz influence in the piano part, while the violin gets the sad tunes. I really enjoyed it, by some distance the best of the three works, but amazingly, this is its premiere recording.
If the first two works are clearly in the neo-classical mode, the d’Indy is of earlier derivation. Indeed, it begins like a long lost Brandenburg concerto. It is his last orchestral work, written at the age of 75, and is much leaner and lighter than the majority of his works to which I had been introduced by the good graces of Chandos and Rumon Gamba. Only the middle slow movement deviates much from the Baroque mode, resembling d’Indy’s more typical works, whilst retaining the lightness of touch that characterises the whole piece.
An interesting mix then, well played and recorded throughout, with the Krenek being the undoubted highlight.
David Barker