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Jerzy FITELBERG (1903-1951)
String Quartet No. 1 (1926) [11:34]
Serenade for Viola and Piano (1943) [8:53]
Sonatine for Two Violins (1939) [17:50]
String Quartet No. 2 (1928) [16:57]
Nachtmusik, Op. 9 Fisches Nachtgesang (1921) [5:08]
ARC Ensemble (Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet); Erika Raum, Marie Bérard, Benjamin Bowman (violin); Steven Dann (viola); Bryan Epperson (cello); Kara Huber (piano/celesta))
rec. 26-28 January 2015, Koerner Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, Telos Centre for Performance and Learning, Toronto, Ontario
CHANDOS CHAN10877 [60:38]

Jerzy Fitelberg was the son of the more famous Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953), one of Szymanowski’s greatest exponents and later still active as a propagandist for the music of Lutosławski; try Dutton CDBP9808. Jerzy, born in Warsaw in 1903, studied successively in Warsaw and Berlin where he took lessons from Franz Schreker. He left the city in 1933, settling in Paris before escaping to New York in 1940. He died in 1951, two years before his father.

The five chamber works in this disc, composed between 1921 and 1943, offer plenty of nourishment. The String Quartet No.1 of 1926 wastes no time in outlining its taut, motoric, largely Stravinskian impetus – think of The Soldier’s Tale, and you’ll have something of the ethos – though there’s compensatory warmth in the meno mosso section of the brief opening movement. There is plenty of zest in the central Allegro, which is the longest of the five and sports an almost lissom B section. The 1943 Serenade for viola and piano, a product of his American years, is dedicated to Irene Jacobi, wife of composer Frederick Jacobi, though it was to be published posthumously. It opens in an appropriately more pensive way, drawing out those dark viola colours in the Andante mosso opening paragraph but swiftly goes through changes in metres and moods.

A Sonatine for two violins promises, perhaps, Prokofiev-like rewards but this is a different kind of work altogether, very light-hearted with lightly flecked Polish dance elements, notably the folkloric march finale. The String Quartet No.2 is the original of what became the Concerto for String Orchestra, and was dedicated to that great pioneering ensemble, the Pro Arte Quartet. A prize-winning work it enshrines plenty of bristling ostinati and elegant Francophile dynamism and witty syncopation. It was clever to have dedicated it to so fundamentally Franco-Belgian a quartet as the Pro Arte as it fits their metier well, not least in the measured hard-won lyricism of the slow movement and the decisive vivacity of the finale. The last work in the programme is the earliest, Nachtmusik, and - in one of those engaging programmatic plans - stylistically the most intriguing. It shows the teenaged Fitelberg in full-on Second Viennese School immersion. Scored for clarinet, cello and celesta this five-minute study in nocturnal unease begs several what-ifs. It’s clear that, for him, it was a cul-de-sac but it makes for a fascinating listening experience.

The ARC Ensemble, with pianist and celesta player Kara Huber, make the best possible case for these works. They play with great eloquence and have been very sympathetically recorded.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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