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Confession - Schulhoff, Etc: String Quartets / Casal Quartet

Release Date: 04/25/2006 
Label:  Telos   Catalog #: 111   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Erwin SchulhoffViktor UllmannAdolf BuschHeinrich Kaminski
Performer:  Dominick FischerAndreas FleckMarkus FleckRachel Rosina Späth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Casal Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews


SCHULHOFF String Quartet No. 1. ULLMANN String Quartet No. 3. A. BUSCH Quartettsatz in b. KAMINSKI String Quartet in F

The casalQUARTETT—to provide the preciously affected exact Read more typography of its name—offers here a variegated and fascinating program of works by relatively little-known early 20th-century composers with widely divergent aesthetics. The unitary thread of the album is that all four composers had unusually strong political, philosophical, religious, and moral convictions that profoundly influenced their artistic conceptions and practices.

By far the most frequently recorded composer represented here is Erwin Schulhoff (1899–1942), whose music went through several wildly divergent phases. A child prodigy promoted by Dvo?ák, he studied briefly with Debussy and then fell under the influence of Reger and Scriabin. During his years as a military conscript in the Austro-Hungarian army from 1914 to 1918 he became politically and culturally radicalized. After World War I ended he associated himself with such artists as Otto Dix, George Grosz, and the Dadaists; discovered jazz; and was briefly allied with the Second Viennese School. He then fell under the spell of Leo? Janá?ek around 1923, an influence that proved more enduring and infuses the quartet recorded here. By 1933 Schulhoff had become a committed Stalinist and subscribed to the aesthetic principles of Socialist Realism; already in the previous year he had produced a four-movement choral setting of passages from the Communist Manifesto that included such soporific lines as “The bourgeoisie has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” In 1941 the U.S.S.R. granted his petition for citizenship, but before he could leave Germany he was arrested and interned as a prisoner of war in the Wülzberg concentration camp, where he died of tuberculosis. The quartet opens with a fiery Presto, followed by a lilting Allegretto in duple time with an oddly ghostly interlude, a rustic Slavic dance-based Scherzo, and an uneasily meditative, almost edgily neurotic Andante finale.

Viktor Ullmann (1898–1942) was, like Schulhoff, of Jewish and Czech descent and a victim of Nazism whose compositions were condemned as entartete (degenerate) music. A key figure in the arts program in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where the third quartet was composed, he was deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Most of his compositions were unpublished, and lost or destroyed during the war. Unlike the fiercely atheistic Schulhoff, however, by the late 1920s Ullmann had become a committed devotee of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, and sought in several compositions (particularly his operas) to reflect the metaphysical principles of that spiritualistic philosophy. Ullmann was a pupil of both Schoenberg and Zemlinsky; despite being composed as late as 1943, the four movements (Allegro moderato, Presto, Largo, Rondo-Finale) of his Third Quartet entirely reflect the sound world of Verklärte Nacht.

Heinrich Kaminski (1886–1946) also suffered from Nazi persecution, but was not interned due to his “minor” (one-eighth) degree of Jewish ancestry. The son of an Old Catholic priest, he was an intensely religious believer who held that music was not merely a craft or art, but a medium for revelation of foundational principles of the universe; in the later 1920s he came under the influence of mystical Rosicrucian writings. He was a respected teacher whose pupils included Carl Orff; as a composer, he is primarily known for his choral and organ works. His F-Major Quartet from 1917 is written in a late-Romantic style; its four movements (Lento espressivo, Energisch, Adagio espressivo, Allegro) display a more than passing affinity with the works of Korngold.

Adolf Busch (1891–1952) is of course famous as one of the great violinists of the 20th century and leader of the renowned Busch Quartet and Busch Chamber Players, with a stellar legacy of recordings. A man of high moral principles and personal integrity, his fierce opposition to Nazism led him to sacrifice his European career for exile, relative obscurity, and financial hardship in America. More recently his compositions have been receiving some attention; the Quartettsatz in B Minor, dating from 1924, shows the influence of Reger and has passages redolent of Elgar as well.

Surprisingly, there have been at least eight other recordings of the Schulhoff quartet. This version, the Philharmonia Quartet Berlin on Thorofon, the eponymous Schulhoff Quartet on VMS, or the Talich Quartet on Calliope (recommended by James H. North in Fanfare 21:3), are to my ears preferable to either the Tel Aviv Quartet on Naxos (recommended by Lynn René Bayley in 34:1) or the Petersen Quartet on Capriccio; I have not heard the Brandis Quartet on Nimbus, the Schoenberg Quartet on Koch (reviewed by Jerry Dubins in 33:4), or the Colorado Chamber Players on Centaur (which also includes the Ullmann quartet). The Ullmann has also been recorded by the Kocian Quartet on Praga (panned by North in 27:1) and the Hawthorne Quartet on Channel Classics; again, this recording is their equal or superior. There are no other available recordings of the works by Kaminski (a previous Christophorus CD with the New Leipzig Quartet is out of print) or Busch (apparently a premiere), so anyone desiring those works must acquire this disc. Fortunately, all of its contents are worth having, as each of the four compositions has considerable intrinsic merit and illuminates various facets of early 20th-century chamber music. The quartet plays with vigor and a tone that, aptly for this music, has steely brilliance rather than warmth. The recorded sound is slightly on the dryer side and has little resonance, which accentuates the more acerbic harmonic aspects of these works. A German–English booklet includes several photographs and brief essays on each composer. Recommended.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 by Erwin Schulhoff
Performer:  Dominick Fischer (Viola), Andreas Fleck (Cello), Markus Fleck (Violin),
Rachel Rosina Späth (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Casal Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; Prague, Czech Republ 
Date of Recording: 10/2000 
Venue:  Alte Kirche Boswil (CH) 
Length: 15 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 3, Op. 46 by Viktor Ullmann
Performer:  Dominick Fischer (Viola), Andreas Fleck (Cello), Markus Fleck (Violin),
Rachel Rosina Späth (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Casal Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; Terezín, Czech Repub 
Date of Recording: 10/2000 
Venue:  Alte Kirche Boswil (CH) 
Length: 13 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings in F major by Heinrich Kaminski
Performer:  Dominick Fischer (Viola), Rachel Rosina Späth (Violin), Andreas Fleck (Cello),
Markus Fleck (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Casal Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; Germany 
Quartettsatz in B minor by Adolf Busch
Performer:  Markus Fleck (Violin), Dominick Fischer (Viola), Andreas Fleck (Cello),
Rachel Rosina Späth (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Casal Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; Berlin, Germany 
Length: 10 Minutes 51 Secs. 

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