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Schulhoff: Ogelala, Suite, Symphony No 2 / Dohnanyi, Viotti

Release Date: 06/13/2006 
Label:  Arte Nova   Catalog #: 278020   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Erwin Schulhoff
Conductor:  Oliver DohnányiMarcello Viotti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

When the young Schulhoff (b. 1894) wrote the ballet Ogelala in 1923, he was still absorbing influences from all over. Le sacre is usually cited as the major influence, but it appears only late in Schulhoff’s score. There are quotations from The Miraculous Mandarin in several sections; the trouble is, as is so often the case with this fascinating composer, that Bartók’s 1919 score was orchestrated that same year and had not yet been either performed or published. The similarities are too close to be merely “it was in the air at the time.” Bartók spent a few weeks in Berlin in 1920, and Schulhoff worked and lived in Germany at the time, but we may never know how the connection arose. There is much more to this music; the ballet Read more was about American Indians, and Schulhoff supposedly studied American Indian dances at phonographic archives at Berlin University. Schulhoff’s music suggests that perhaps “American” means Mexican, but I know nothing of early recordings of native-American music. In any case, this 36-minute ballet, filled with colorful exoticism, is well worth hearing. Schulhoff had a wonderful ear for orchestration, and he uses great variety here: one whole section is for percussion, a guitar joins the orchestra at one point; strings swirl around winds and over drums.

The Suite is lighter music, filled with jazz as Europeans knew it in the early 1920s. The six movements are “Ragtime,” “Valse Boston,” “Tango,” “Shimmy,” “Step,” and “Jazz.” The similarity to movements of Hindemith’s “1922” Suite for Piano are apparent (“Marsch,” “Shimmy,” “Nachtstück,” “Boston,” “Ragtime”), but once again Schulhoff got there first. This time such music was “in the air” and almost every composer in Germany would soon follow suit.

The 1932 Second Symphony has been widely damned for being a communist tract (a late addition to Schulhoff’s many enthusiasms), but that seems ridiculous to me. True, the music is lightweight—we are trained to expect symphonies to be ever so serious—and somewhat banal, but there is still humor aplenty; a Scherzo alla jazz, which includes a wailing saxophone, doesn’t suggest socialist realism. Other recorded performances, especially one by Vladimír Válek on Supraphon, have played up the bombast, while this one (claimed to be the symphony’s German premiere) goes all out for fun. I like it this way.

All of Schulhoff’s music has charm, humor, gorgeous melodies, irresistible rhythms, entrancing harmonies, and colorful scoring. Yet something is missing: he was perhaps too clever, too facile; only his chamber music holds interest over repeated hearings. Nevertheless, this inexpensive disc is too much fun to pass up.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Chamber Orchestra, Op. 37 by Erwin Schulhoff
Conductor:  Oliver Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; Czech Republic 
Symphony no 2 by Erwin Schulhoff
Conductor:  Marcello Viotti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; Czech Republic 
Ogelala, Op. 53 "Ballettmysterium" by Erwin Schulhoff
Conductor:  Oliver Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923 

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