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Kaminsky: Werk Fur Streichorchester / Skou-Larsen, Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss

Kaminski / Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss
Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777578   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Heinrich Kaminski
Conductor:  Lavard Skou-Larsen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  German Chamber Academy Neuss
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KAMINSKI Work for String Orchestra Lavard Skou-Larsen, cond; German CO of Neuss CPO 777 578-2 (53:22)

Although revered in some quarters in Germany, Heinrich Kaminski (1886–1946) remains a little-known and little-recorded figure. In Fanfare 34:3 I gave a positive review to a recording of his 1917 String Quartet in F Major. Other recordings include the Music for Cello and Piano , which appeared with Read more Reger’s Cello Sonata on an Audite disc; CDs of his complete organ music on both the Mitra and Christophorus labels; a Christophorus disc of two of his chamber works for strings (discussed below); an Oehms CD of several of his choral pieces; and the Concerto Grosso for Piano and Double String Orchestra in an Andromeda set of live performances conducted by Josef Keilberth. Otherwise, only individual choral pieces have appeared in a few choral anthology discs.

Kaminski was of Polish descent. His mother was an opera singer; his father was an Old Catholic priest (Old Catholics split off from the Roman Catholic Church proper in 1870 after the declaration of papal infallibility, and then dispensed with clerical celibacy among other changes to doctrine and discipline), who was in turn apparently the illegitimate son of a Jewish servant girl. When his family initially apprenticed him to training for a banking career in Offenbach, he threatened to commit suicide unless he was allowed to attend university instead. He went to Heidelberg to study political science, where he had a chance meeting with a woman named Martha Warburg. Recognizing his musical talent, she offered to subsidize him, and he promptly left his university studies for musical ones. (Thus, in contrast to the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Camille Saint-Saëns, Kaminski went from Offenbach to Bach.) He moved to Berlin in 1909 to study at the Stern Conservatory, abandoning a girlfriend and illegitimate son in so doing (though Kaminski did take in his son and support him during World War I).

In 1914 Kaminski assumed a post as a piano teacher in the town of Benediktbeuern (Ried) in Bavaria, where he became friends with the renowned painters Emil Nolde and Franz Marc, corresponding with the latter until his untimely death at the battlefront in 1916 and giving piano lessons to his wife, Maria. His earliest major successes were his Psalm 130 for soprano and chorus, first performed in 1912, and his Psalm 69 for tenor solo, children’s and adult choirs, and orchestra, premiered in Munich in 1914 by Bruno Walter. In 1916 he married Elfriede Jopp, a Munich chorister, with whom he would have five children, and composed his F?-Minor String Quintet, dedicated to Bruno Walter. After several years spent eking out a precarious living as a private music teacher (his pupils included Carl Orff), in 1930 Kaminski moved to Berlin and assumed a professorship at the Prussian Academy of Arts. With the rise to power of the Nazis he was relieved of his post in 1933 for unspecified “political reasons,” and thereafter led a financially parlous existence, triggering a move back to Munich in 1937. Investigation of his lineage by the Nazi regime led to a ban in 1938 on all performances of his works on the grounds that he was a half-Jew, but that was rescinded in 1941 when the record was “corrected” to classify him as only a quarter-Jew. During World War II he had tangential involvement with the White Rose resistance movement, providing overnight shelter to one of its members who was fleeing the Gestapo, and periodically sought shelter with friends in Switzerland. Between 1939 and 1945 three of his five children died, his wife was severely injured by falling debris, and his own health broke. He died in Ried just after completing the work he regarded as his magnum opus , the opera Das Spiel vom König Aphelius (The Game of King Aphelius), which was posthumously premiered in 1951.

Kaminski was by all accounts an odd and apparently somewhat difficult man. A devout mystic, he was an avid reader of literature ranging from Meister Eckert and the Rosicrucians to Gautama Buddha, and he was an occasional correspondent with anthropologist Rudolf Steiner. In everyday affairs he was thoroughly impractical; while he coveted the salary of a regular academic appointment, he resented the concomitant duties as an infringement upon his compositional activities, and sometimes lived from month to month on handouts from various benefactors. As a husband and father he was apparently rather imperious, insisting on his opinions as a rule of law. In music, he shunned all the revolutionary developments of the early 20th century. Yet he also attracted people with his devout earnestness, and his musical admirers included Arnold Schoenberg as well as Walter Braunfels.

The Work for String Orchestra presented on this release is a reworking from 1927 of his String Quintet. When Kaminski undertook to revise the piece, it was suggested to him that it also be adapted into a version for string orchestra. Kaminski turned that task over to a trusted pupil, Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling, and was entirely pleased with his handiwork. The result was premiered in 1929 by Kaminski’s friend the conductor Franz von Hoeßlin, in Wuppertal-Elberfeld, where it was proclaimed to be a masterpiece.

The Work is cast in four movements. The first has a tripartite structure, Adagio–Allegro–Adagio . Suspended open chords and modal harmonies evoke a solemn, contemplative atmosphere, succeeded by an energetic theme dominated by patterns of an eighth note and two 16th notes. While the influence of the late Beethoven quartets is evident, the music also calls to mind Bruckner but especially the music for strings of Ralph Vaughan Williams—the Tallis Fantasia , the Concerto Grosso , and the Partita for Double String Orchestra— both in its harmonic and melodic contours and because Schwarz-Schilling’s orchestration also offsets a solo string quartet against the larger string orchestra. The following dark-hued Adagio calls to mind the slow movements of Bruckner’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies in its long-limbed, solemn thematic material; the following Allegro grazioso scherzo movement also recalls Bruckner, albeit more distantly. The finale, a fugue of vast dimensions, obviously looks back to the Grosse Fuge of Beethoven, though its character is very different; the first half of its 18 minutes unfolds at an almost glacial pace, with a pronounced shift in meter to a faster tempo, after which it progressively accelerates to a vigorous close.

A recording of the Quintet in its original form (along with the ABEGG Variations for string quartet) was issued in 1995 on the Christophorus label, with the Leipzig Quartet and violist Paul Suske; unfortunately it is long out of print. Paul A. Snook reviewed it in 18:4, and his insightful comments are worth quoting at length:

“But what especially singles him out from the dozens of unquestioning and provincial mediocrities with a similar background was his uncanny mastery of contrapuntal writing, wherein the individual strands often display an autonomy which somehow goes to reinforce the texture’s overall, tightly knit harmonic integrity. Moreover, Kaminski was not content to let the counterpoint simply rattle along mechanistically; his music is subject to succeeding waves of fluctuating meters and moods that impart a breathing warmth and vitality to his rigorous polyphonic schemes and make them both formally and psychologically the very opposite of anything remotely inflexible or academic. … This panoramic 53-minute statement, concluding with a mammoth but never marmoreal 20-minute fugue, is full of intensely pulsating life. In spite of its lofty language, it addresses the listener on a deeply personal, even subjective, level that is redolent of late-Romantic yearning and striving. Kaminski is marvelously adept at creating a natural synthesis between majesty of scale and intimacy of utterance. His use of muted chromaticism achieves a kind of mystical sensuousness that approaches the sublime without ever overstepping the limits of what is classically acceptable.”

To this, I will only add further that this is music of profound and deep beauty of a sort not readily found. The performance by conductor Lavard Skou-Larsen and his orchestra is deeply impassioned and committed, and supported by spacious recorded sound. Let us hope that CPO follows this release with more of Kaminski’s music; urgently recommended.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Strings in F sharp minor by Heinrich Kaminski
Conductor:  Lavard Skou-Larsen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  German Chamber Academy Neuss
Period: Late Romantic 
Written: 1907 / 1917; Germany 
Notes: String Quintet in F sharp minor by Heinrich Kaminsky arranged for string orchestra by Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling. Premiered in 1929 under the title, "Work for String Orchestra". 

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