Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Double Bass.
(Wind Quintet, arr. Greissle)
Fenwick Smith (fl); Sally Pinkus (pn);
Mark Ludwig (va);
Edwin Barker (db);
Randall Hodgkinson (pn)
CHANDOS 10515 (66:03)
I am not fond of the flute as a solo vehicle (it is the only thing that Mozart and I have in common). Schulhoff, however, had a genius for employing instruments, not so much in orchestration but in small ensembles. These two pieces are typical: conservative, even old-fashioned forms, enlivened with imaginative, often avant-garde touches. The Sonata is a four-movement work of surpassing charm and brilliance, a showpiece for (unusually) both flute and piano. Schulhoff was a gifted pianist, and he seemed incapable of writing mere accompaniment for his instrument—think Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata.
Schulhoff’s magic is on full display in the Concertino. If flute, viola, and double bass seem an odd combination, that is only because we are not accustomed to it; in reality, it makes perfect sense. The string instruments provide the strength and guts that the flute lacks, while it in turn adds the brilliance that they miss. The three become a beautiful, satisfying ensemble, with each instrument occasionally breaking into an accompanied solo—the double bass rules the Furiant that serves as a scherzo. There’s no competition with the piano here, freeing the composer to write music of depth and character. Schulhoff was more than a clever manipulator of instruments and of other people’s ideas (a complaint I’ve heard lodged against him); he possessed an original and unique musical sensibility, so individual that his music is always easily identifiable.
But Schoenberg’s massive, complex Wind Quintet, reduced to a flute and a piano? Impossible! Wrong again: the transcription was done by Felix Greissle, a Schoenberg student who was living in the teacher’s house at the time (and would later become his son-in-law). Schoenberg suggested that the transcription be made and kept a close eye on the work, so there is a strong sense of authenticity here. The aural problems of Schoenberg’s first completely 12-tone work have faded with years of familiarity (by performers as well as listeners), but the flute transcription is even easier on the ears, enhanced by Smith and Hodgkinson’s masterful presentation. The retitling of the quintet as a sonata mirrors the extent of the change; I feel that I am hearing a newly discovered work by a familiar master.
Smith was a flutist from 1978 to 2006 with the Boston Symphony—a hard place to find advancement, as Georges Laurent and Doriot Anthony Dwyer occupied the first chair for 72 consecutive years. Barker has been BSO principal double bass for over 30 years. Ludwig has been a BSO violist nearly as long; he is even better known as one of the initiators of the revival and rehabilitation of music written at Terezín. Pinkas is another Boston-centered musician who has gone out and conquered the world; Hodgkinson is, of course, a household name from Beantown to Timbuktu. The point is that these are superior musicians, and they convince us anew on this disc, which is recommended with brimming enthusiasm.
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Works on This Recording
Sonata for Flute and Piano by Erwin Schulhoff
Fenwick Smith (Flute),
Sally Pinkas (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1927; Prague, Czech Republ
Quintet for Winds, Op. 26 by Arnold Schoenberg
Randall Hodgkinson (Piano),
Fenwick Smith (Flute)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1923-1924; Vienna, Austria
Notes: Arranger: Felix Greissle.
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