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Entartete Musik – Works for alto saxophone and piano
Bernard HEIDEN (1910-2000) Sonata (1937) [15:32]
Paul DESSAU (1894-1979) Suite (1935) [7:03]
Erwin DRESSEL (1909-1972) Bagatellen (1938) [13:45]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942) Hot-Sonate (1930) [14:43]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963) Sonata (1943) [15:58]
Wolfgang JACOBI (1894-1972) Sonata (1932) [6:16]
Hans GÁL (1890-1987) Suite Op. 102b (1949) [17:49]
Ernst-Lothar von KNORR (1896-1973) Sonata (1932) [13:28]
Duo Disecheis (David Brutti (alto saxophone); Filippo Farinelli (piano))
rec. May, August, November 2013, Auditorium Matteo d’Acquasparta, Terni, Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94874 [51:39 + 54:11]

It’s perhaps a little cheeky to give this set the title of Entartete Musik, as it brings to mind (or perhaps invokes?) the excellent and too short-lived Decca series of the 1990s which featured the music of composers who were “suppressed or displaced during the political troubles of the 1930s-40s” (Decca).  This pair of discs does that too, albeit in the very specific medium of music for piano and saxophone.  Still, it’s a worthwhile disc of well-played music, and it points out that, in the 1938 Entartete Musik exhibition in Düsseldorf, “the most degenerate instrument was deemed to be the saxophone, not least on account of its relationship with jazz, and thus Afro-American culture and the fusion of musical genres.”

All the composers on this set suffered some form of unwelcome attention under the Nazis, and if most of the names are unfamiliar then it doesn’t erase the fact that some of the music on offer here is very good and it’s all at least worth a listen.  The Heiden sonata is quite cheeky in tone, almost relentlessly so, in fact, as the lack of a slow movement means the rapid-fire interactions between the saxophone and piano become rather full-on, for all that their virtuosity is impressive.  Dessau’s Suite, on the other hand, begins with a quick-fire movement that sounds like an insect attack in places, but has a second movement of beautifully delicate stillness and a finale that sounds witty rather than too pleased with itself.

Dressel's Bagatelles begin with a gently hypnotic Elegy then a good-humoured Scherzo and that could have come out of the mouth of a jazz singer.  There follows a beautifully smooth Aria and a playful Gigue finale.  Schulhoff’s intriguingly titled Hot-Sonata is very jazzy, and was written as a tribute to a railway station.  It begins with a sultry opening movement with a long sax line over more playful, sparky piano. The third movement has a deliciously sleazy air that must have infuriated the Nazis. There is more of a lilt to the rest, but the tone is always fairly irreverent.

The Hindemith sonata begins with an air of dreamy, almost Fantasy-like lyricism and the third movement is very thoughtful; but it’s predominantly a busy, incisive work with a wry smile on its face. The helter-skelter finale follows a most unusual episode of a text which is required to be spoken by both players — the translation of which is given in the booklet.  Jacobi's sonata begins with a rhythmically obsessive first movement and a swirling perpetuum mobile scherzo. Its slow finale is appealingly enigmatic, putting the sonata to bed in a most unusual way.  Gal's suite has a broad, expansive opening that is followed by a biting march reminiscent of Shostakovich, with two rather dainty movements to bring it to a close. Von Knorr's sonata, then, contains a fairly even balance of the sparky, the humorous and the lyrical.

This disc is probably most of interest to specialists, and it does get a little samey after a while, but it’s laudable of Brilliant Classics to be doing their bit to expand our knowledge of the repertoire. The playing from Brutti and Farinelli is never less than classy.

Simon Thompson  


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