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Richard STÖHR (1874-1967)
Suite for Flute, Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 76 (1942) [32:06]
String Quartet No. 2 in E flat, Op. 86 (1942) [29:42]
String Quartet No. 3 in A minor, Op. 92: II Serenade (1943) [4:49]
Conor Nelson (flute)
Mary Siciliano (piano)
Velda Kelly, Priscilla Johnson, Judith Teasdle (violin)
Susan Schreiber (viola)
Stefan Koch (cello)
rec. 2014-19, Brookwood Studio, Plymouth, Michigan

This is now the fourth volume in Toccata’s series devoted to Richard Stöhr’s chamber music (see Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3) and it focuses on music written in the early years of his American exile following his escape from Vienna. A noted teacher, while at Curtis some of his many students included Leonard Bernstein and Eugene Istomin – there’s a reprinted photograph in the booklet showing members of his class, among whom stands Bernstein.

The Second String Quartet was composed in 1942, some three decades after the First. In four movements lasting half an hour in this performance it shows great charm and an abundance of Dvořák-like influence. This easy-going, sometimes rustic quality permeates the entire quartet, though one can add a Mendelssohnian vitality and joviality in the larky Scherzo. The slow movement is not especially laden, rather having a country feel irradiated by light pizzicati. The finale meanwhile offers bright and bushy energy, with a village band ethos, and a droll pizzicato episode. If you’re not expecting the kind of quartets that Toch, his fellow Viennese exile, was writing at the same time, you won’t be disappointed.

From what’s written in the notes, Toccata will not be recording in full the Quartet No.3, written in 1943, as they present just its Serenade second movement. The whole manuscript is extant. The Serenade reveals yet again the Dvořákian influences that permeated so much of Stöhr’s writing.

Written in the same year as the Second Quartet, the Suite for flute, violin, cello and piano is another in the long line of Stöhr’s lyrically generous, well-proportioned backward-looking works. If a pervasive nostalgia seems inherent in his writing, it’s one that is almost always lively and affirmative. There are warmly solemn moments in this work alongside genial dance motifs, a joyful waltz, a thanksgiving panel and religioso elements too. Stöhr invariably returns to a refined chromaticism, adding generous lashings of expansive melody and topping the whole work with a gypsy-lite dance.

It’s certainly a more varied work than the Second Quartet, and perhaps the combination of instruments drew from the composer a wider range of emotions and textures.

The performances are attractive and dedicated. Perhaps the piano’s treble is a little bright, but that might also be an acoustical question. Recorded over a five-year period, the location remains constant.

As is invariably the case with Toccata, the notes are excellent and two of the three mini essays are written by the performers involved, which allows an insider’s viewpoint.

Jonathan Woolf

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