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Ernst BACHRICH (1892-1942)
Piano Sonata, Op.1 (1917) [8:04]
Drei Gesänge Op.3 (1917–25) [8:31]
Violin Sonata, Op.2 (1925) [19:23]
Psalm Op.10 No.1 (1933/34) [1:57]
Osterblüte Op.10 No.2 (1933/34) [2:18]
Porträts. Drei Klavierstücke Op.6 (1927) [11:17]
Sonnenhymne Op.11 (1933/34) [9:21]
Prelude (1929) [1:46]
L'Angelus (1933–37) [2:15]
Die frühen Verse Op.15 (1935) [5:19]
Alexander Breitenbach (piano)
Lola Rubio (violin)
Anna Christin Sayn (soprano)
rec. 2018, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
No texts; web link provided to texts and English translations
EDA EDA44 [70:04]

Ernst Bachrich was a founding member of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances. In recent years a number of the chamber reductions performed at the society have been recorded and in this respect Bachrich who, along with Eduard Steuermann, was its most important pianist (he gave concerts and performed on the radio across Europe) is of real interest. As a student of Schoenberg, he shows clear absorption of important elements of the Second Viennese School but as the opus numbers in this disc of world premiere recordings advance, the influence of Berg becomes unmistakeable.

Bachrich began studies with Schoenberg in June 1916 when he was 24. He was on hand in 1918 when his teacher formed the society and acted as both secretary and pianist. Kapellmeister positions followed in the early 1920s when he came into the orbit of Fritz Stiedry and Felix Weingartner. Gradually performance as a pianist and composition won out over a conducting career and Berg was helping to organise performances of his works as early as 1926. By 1938 he was a musical director in Vienna but after the Anschluss he was blacklisted and in May 1942 he was deported by train from Vienna and two months later murdered in Lublin concentration camp.

Where the music wasn’t published or was self-published, copies have survived in libraries, such as Paul Sacher’s or the National Library of Israel. Given the rarity of the material and its obscurity, it’s perhaps not surprising that all the recordings are claimed as première ones.

His Piano Sonata was his Opus 1, an eight-minute single-movement work written at some point between 1917 and 1925 though given its piquant harmonies, its contrapuntal eloquence and sense of compression and expression, Scriabin was likely to have been an influence even more important than Schoenberg. The Op.3 songs, composed over a similar span of time but grouped together, combine nonsense verse with expressionist languor. As a pianist he is superior in his distribution of material between the violin and piano im the 1925 Violin Sonata and the knotty tension between the two is fruitful. Conventionally structured in three movements the slow movement is probably the most striking for its sense of melancholy and its lithe, fast B section. There again, maybe it’s the finale, with its terse agitation but also its motion-hungry energy that will catch the ear longest.

The three piano pieces called Portraits date from 1927 and are characterful examples of his art, veering between impetuosity and introversion, but never coldly. The final Portrait is apparently an ‘improvisation’ on The Old Folks at Home but I couldn’t much hear it. Perhaps more impressive, because the more concentrated, is the powerfully chromatic Sonnenhymne, Op.11 dating from 1933-34. Bachrich seems to have sought stylistic accommodation between certain elements in his music-making. In L’Angelus, a Breton song, he draws together the song’s folkloric inheritance whilst utilising his own aplomb in the application of quartal harmony. The result is convincing. The Op.15 song was found in the estate of Berg and is now housed in the Austrian National Library. This monodrama was dedicated by Bachrich on the occasion of Berg’s 50th birthday and its ecstatic Sprechstimme is far, far closer to Berg than to Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire.

The dedicated performers prove to be fine exponents of the different and difficult demands of the music and have been supported with an admirable booklet note and a good recording in the famous location of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin. For the texts you will have to follow the booklet links. Little by little composers of note such as Bachrich are being reclaimed from the ashes of their lives.

Jonathan Woolf

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