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Josef SCHELB (1894-1977)
Orchestral Music - Volume 2
Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (1949) [21:50]
Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra (1956) [22:37]
Concerto for Cor Anglais and String Orchestra (1970) [19:04]
Tatjana Blome (piano)
Sarina Zickgraf (viola)
Dominik Wollenweber (cor anglais)
Kammersymphonie Berlin/Jürgen Bruns
rec. January 2021, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem

Toccata has been active in propagating the music of Josef Schelb and you will find some biographical information included in previous releases that have been covered on this site (review ~ review).

It was Schelb’s son Albert, who has edited his father’s works, who was largely responsible for this renewal of interest, and he contributes notably fine booklet notes, in English and German. This second volume in the Schelb orchestral music series focuses on three concertos, for piano, viola and cor anglais.

The Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra dates from 1949 and shares a three-movement structure with the other two concertos here. It’s a ripely neo-classical work that reveals Schelb’s willingness to explore lyricism, melancholy and whimsicality alike. Its opening movement is crisp and cheerful, with limpidity inbuilt, and a fine cadenza, which is well dispatched by Tatjana Blome. A deft orchestrator, Schelb ensures clarity so that the solo piano line is never obscured, not least in moments of expressive density in the central movement, where the piano’s chiming repeating figures both start and end the movement. Neo-classical buoyancy reasserts itself in the finale, through there’s a lusciously warm B section to act as an excellent contrast. This is a winning work, excellently performed though, for my tastes, the piano is balanced too far forward.

Seven years later came the Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra (there’s an earlier 1952 Viola Concerto which is scored for strings, winds and horns) where soloist Sarina Zickgraf catches the music’s cantabile eloquence which is couched, once more, in a neo-Baroque idiom. Schelb’s ability to conjure lyric warmth is very much in evidence here, not least in the tranquillo generosity of the slow movement, whereas he has an equal command of giocoso finales. Here phrasal elasticity, aerial brio and deft sharing of material between string orchestra and solo viola bring a real sense of communicative élan.

The Cor Anglais Concerto followed in 1970 by which time – seven years before his death – Schelb’s music had undergone something of an expansion in style. It’s saturated with extended tonality and its fluidity – which is always elegant – allows the music to flow with relatively compressed assurance. Once more there is an example of Schelb’s propensity for veiled melancholy in his slow movements and – yet again – there’s a correspondingly light and jaunty finale notwithstanding the earlier recourse, in places in the first movement, to twelve-tone procedure. Dominik Wollenweber is the refined soloist.

The balances are better in the concertos for Viola and Cor anglais than in the Piano Concerto, but all the soloists are admirable, as is conductor Jürgen Bruns, who delineates orchestral strands very adeptly and is clearly as in tune with the lyricism as well as the more harmonically advanced nature of Schelb’s compositional arsenal.

Jonathan Woolf

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