Notes and Editorial Reviews
For many years Ernst Toch was one of those composers known and respected by other musicians but not as well known by the general concert-going public. (However, during the war years Toch earned extra pay composing monster movie music in Hollywood so if you've seen the classic horror film Dr Cyclops, you've heard Toch's luminous and haunting score.) CPO has been exploring the music of Ernst Toch and this release offers works that are immediately captivating in creativity and imagination. The song cycle "The Chinese Flute" and the stage composition, "Egon and Emilie" are from earlier in his career when Toch taught at the Musikhochschule Mannheim in Germany. The music for "The Chinese Flute" is at once
captivating, alluring and highly individual and the performances by the Mutare Ensemble offer superb musicianship. The Five Pieces, and the Quartet are late works from Toch's years in the U.S. and are equally captivating, balancing predictable and unpredictable musical elements within completely satisfying and creative chamber works, rich in instrumental colors. The unpretentious Quartet, completed in the last year of his life, displays a technical mastery and artistic sincerity fully at home with the 20th Century. With this series, Toch's colorful, individual music may at last be recognized.
Greg La Traille,
The Chinese Flute
. 5 Pieces for Wind Instruments and Percussion.
Egon und Emilie.
Gerhard Müller-Hornbach, cond; Mutare Ens
CPO 777 092-2 (65:16
Text and Translation)
The Chinese Flute
was once Ernst Toch’s best-known composition, thanks to an early recording in the 78-rpm era. Subtitled
A Chamber Symphony for 14 Instruments and a Soprano Voice
, it is in six movements, the even-numbered ones including sung poems by Hans Bethge, “after three Chinese lyrics” of Li-Tai-Po (
The Mysterious Flute
), Sao-Han (
), and Confucius (
The Fate of Man
). This 1922 work is a highly polished Tochian blend of emotion and intellect, hinting at Debussy and even Rachmaninoff. The ensemble consists of two flutes, two clarinets (one alternating bass clarinet), string quartet plus double bass, celesta, and five percussionists—nevertheless, the scoring is subtle throughout, the performance elegant. The equally smooth and rich vocal line is sung mellifluously by soprano Maria Karb. Warm yet soft recorded sound is most winning, although 26 minutes of up-close flutes can be wearying when heard on headphones. I am entranced by
The Chinese Flute
; I haven’t heard the other available recording, on a Profil disc, but its soloist, Elfreide Trötschel, died in 1958, so it may be in monaural sound. This one will do just fine, thank you.
The 1959 Five Pieces (Canzonetta, Caprice, Night Song, Roundelay, and Cavalcade) are scored for wind quintet plus extra horn and two percussionists. They veer toward neoclassicism, although the classicist in question may be Richard Strauss. They display touches of light humor—until the finale, which bursts into high-spirited merriment. A most attractive if not especially memorable 17 minutes.
Egon und Emilie
is a satirical opera from 1928—labeled “not a family drama” by its librettist, Hans Morgenstern—set for coloratura soprano, male speaker, and seven woodwinds: two clarinets plus bass clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, trumpet, and euphonium. A spoiled wife berates her husband in ever-more-exasperated tones; he remains silent despite her attempts to provoke a reaction. Only after she storms out does he address the audience, saying that he longs for peace and quiet. It should be funny, but it doesn’t come across on disc; no doubt it works better on stage, in the language of the audience. As Yogi Berra might have said: A mute character has to be seen to be heard. Soprano Britta Ströher manages the coloratura well, and Norbert Hardegen is suitably taciturn as the husband.
The 1965 op. 98 quartet consists of oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and viola; it’s three competently written short movements with a lesser level of imagination. Although the music declines from piece to piece, this disc is enthusiastically recommended; it will make an ideal complement to your collection of Toch’s wonderful string quartets and symphonies.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29 by Ernst Toch
Maria Karb (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century
Egon und Emilie, Op. 46 by Ernst Toch
Britta Ströher (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century
Quartet, Op. 98 by Ernst Toch
Notes: Scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and viola.
Die chinesische Flote, Op. 29: No. 1. Sehr gemessen
Die chinesische Flote, Op. 29: No. 2. Li Tai Pe, "The Flowers of the Evening ..."
Die chinesische Flote, Op. 29: No. 3. Schreitend, marschmassig
Die chinesische Flote, Op. 29: No. 4. Sao-Han, "Rat, Poisening My Brain ..."
Die chinesische Flote, Op. 29: No. 5. Wie eine Litanae
Die chinesische Flote, Op. 29: No. 6. Khong-Fu-Tse (Confucious), "The Burning Summer ..."
5 Pieces, Op. 83: No. 1. Canzonetta: Andante
5 Pieces, Op. 83: No. 2. Caprice
5 Pieces, Op. 83: No. 3. Night Song: Molto intimo ed espressivo
5 Pieces, Op. 83: No. 4. Roundelay: Allegretto lunsingando, gently flowing
5 Pieces, Op. 83: No. 5. Cavalde: Allegro vivace
Quartet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Viola, Op. 98: I. quarter note = 69-72
Quartet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Viola, Op. 98: II. Andante cantabile: quarter note = 66
Quartet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Viola, Op. 98: III. Allegro molto animato: quarter note = 100
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