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Franz REIZENSTEIN (1911-1968)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F, Op.37 no.2 [26.18]
Serenade in F, Op.29a [1953-4) [27.52]
Overture ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ Op. 28 (1954) [12.32]
Oliver Triendl (piano)
Nürnberger Symphoniker/Yaron Traub
rec. 2018, Musiksaal in der Kongressahalle, Nürnberg
CPO 555245-2 [66.37]

If you think that you have never heard any music by Franz Reizenstein then you could be mistaken, in that you might have seen the horror films ‘The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’ (1964) and its famous predecessor ‘The Mummy’ (1959) or you may have come across some of his recorder music written for Carl Dolmetsch like the ‘Partita’. However little of his music has appeared on CD although CPO did release his ‘Cello Concerto coupled with that by his fellow exile Berthold Goldschmidt (555 109-2).

Last year went by, the fiftieth anniversary of Reizenstein death, and I didn’t note any of his music being played or broadcast but little did we know that this disc was in the can by the middle of the year, and very welcome and refreshing it is too, concentrating, as it does on the composer’s works from the early 50’s.

The three–movement Piano Concerto betrays the composer’s fingerprints but also the strong influence of Hindemith and with its relentlessly powerful and exhilarating opening movement we are introduced to sheer joy and exuberance, which Hindemith only occasionally manages. Not too surprisingly, its first performance with the composer at the piano in 1961 was met with little enthusiasm by a press not that keen on Germany’s ‘New Objectivity’ movement. But on listening now the music seems to be full of melody and fervent expression and the middle movement, marked Andante tranquillo, is almost romantic although often restless. The finale is again full of energy and a myriad amount of notes. The excitement is never lost and the whole work is life enhancing and one that might well make you want to hear it all over again. The performance is simply magnificent and Oliver Triendl throws himself into the work – he must have loved it as I’m sure did Yaron Traub who clearly has its measure.

I was, by the by, exceedingly impressed by the Nuremburg Orchestra when I heard them live a few years ago in Bruckner in their beautiful hall - the Meistersingerhalle - completed in 1963 and which Reizenstein knew in its early days.

It’s interesting that Reizenstein came to England to study under Vaughan-Williams and you might care to find an English voice in the next work the Serenade. This is, as are many Serenades, in five movements of contrasting tempi. It is an orchestration of a Serenade originally for nine wind instruments. It was dismissed in 1954 as “academic” with that equally damning phrase that it had “professional craftsmanship rather than imagination”. For me this shows an unfortunate misunderstanding of Reizenstein’s approach. Michael Haas, in his frank and thorough booklet notes, does comment that if Vaughan Williams can be felt at all it is in Reizenstein’s “ability to create remarkable orchestral effects.” Interestingly I have never deeply considered VW as a particularly arresting orchestrator but that probably is my problem. Even so I know what Haas means.

The first movement, an Allegro moderato has fugal elements and the following calm Andante tranquillo, which acts a slow movement, builds itself around its flowing counterpoint. If the word ‘academic’ is to be applied then these movements might fit the bill. The Allegro ma non troppo acts a quixotic scherzo featuring a solo violin and flute; the Andante tranquillo is haunted by filmic fanfares at first, that later mix with complex counterpoint giving the music its gentle propulsion. The Hindemithian finale seems a little over long but rounds the work off satisfactorily. I have to say though that I am less taken this this piece than with the Concerto.

The last work is an Overture although its length and over all form would put it more into the Symphonic Essay or Poem category but at the time such a nomenclature would have been considered out of step. Cyrano de Bergerac was a fictional, swash-buckling romancer and Reizenstein begins his overture with a vigorous and robust 1st Subject but an appropriately lyrical and romantic 2nd subject, as befits his chosen sonata form framework. The development is contrapuntal often fugal and powerful and the recap consolidates the ideas with a rousing coda. An enterprising orchestra could indeed take up the work as was suggested at its first performance, which was given by the LPO under Boult.

This then is an adventurous disc superbly played and recorded and opening up into a world of a little known composer who certainly deserves to be better served on CD but one you are sadly unlikely ever to hear in the concert hall.

Gary Higginson

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