Notes and Editorial Reviews
Anyone with the slightest interest in these composers can hardly fail to be stirred by this release.
Though this is not a new set, it deserves to be noted that it still represents a fine, wide-ranging and authoritatively performed survey of works of émigré European composers who settled in Britain. Some of the pieces were written subsequent to their arrival, but equally others were written in their German or Austrian heyday. None is without interest. All are indicative of their musical directions at a given moment in their compositional lives.
If we take the works in disc order we start with Egon Wellesz’s five-movement Octet of 1948. This is a substantial, imposing work that
immediately impresses through its establishment of a distinct sense of personality. Changeable, elegant, moody, and often serious, it’s approachable in the extreme and would make a good concert partner for the Ferguson Octet. The
Geistliches Lied date from 1918-19 and are really rather lovely examples of his pared down lyricism, imbuing the songs as well with strong romanticism. The
Cherry Blossom Songs strongly suggest a sense of French clarity, notably Debussy, though it’s evident that his Schoenbergian enthusiasms were present too, though these brief songs, none longer than two minutes, are more prisms for that influence not full grown examples of it.
Leopold Spinner is probably the least well known of the composers represented in this two disc box. He studied in Vienna, became a pupil of Webern and emigrated to England in 1939 where he later became an editor at Boosey & Hawkes, the music publisher. His
Zwei Kleine Stücke for violin and piano are precisely that, but whilst contrasting in mood are consonant in ethos, which is a lightly Schoenbergian one once again and suffused with a clear intensity. They date from 1934. The most recent work to be written is Berthold Goldschmidt’s Fantasy for oboe, cello and harp (1991). It’s written in his habitual late one-movement form, and doesn’t reveal its secrets easily, though again stylistically there is a soupçon of a French accent about it. Peter Gellhorn’s Intermezzo (1937) is very appealing and would make a delightful encore, not least because of its dancing B section. It was composed two years after he’d made it to Britain. Czech émigré Vilém Tauský’s
Coventry is ever affecting in its nobility. A quartet should record it alongside Alan Bush’s
Dialectic to show the different sides of quartet writing in Britain in the later 1930s and early 1940s.
Hans Gál has begun to receive an increasing amount of attention on disc. Gratifyingly there are now competing cycles of the solo piano works, one rather fuller than the other. The works we have here in this collection are the Violin Sonata of 1920 and Five Songs (1917-21). The sonata is a charmer, very fully lyrical and appropriately rich in witty badinage in the central Allegretto. The songs embrace the ballad, nostalgia, and reflective intimacy in equal measure. Another Violin Sonata comes from Mátyás Seiber in 1960, but this is a different kind of work altogether from the genial Gál. Seiber prefers a tauter, more abrasive sound world whose switch to more elastic melody lines is brusquer. But he too can spin a fine line, ending with an evocative elegiac
Lento. Franz Reizenstein’s Quintet dates from 1934, the year he arrived in England and has some baroque elements. It also shows a strong Hindemith influence, which is not surprising as he had been a student. Karl Rankl’s songs show acute perception in word setting with Flatman’s seventeenth century poem
The Whim being especially clever.
At this point I should note that there are two booklets with this set; extensive and first class notes on the music and the composers, and also a booklet of texts with translations where appropriate.
This extremely impressive set is performed with exemplary commitment. All the performances are outstanding. The recordings are first class too. Once or twice I wondered about balancing – I felt the violin was too backward in the Gál sonata for instance – but it’s a passing affair. Anyone with the slightest interest in the composers represented can hardly fail to be stirred by this release.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Octet, Op. 67 by Egon Wellesz
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1948; England
Notes: Composition written: England (1948 - 1949).
The Old Ships by Berthold Goldschmidt
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1952; Germany
War by Karl Rankl
Period: 20th Century
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