Notes and Editorial Reviews
Land von unser Vergangenheit. 6 Hebrew Songs. Hassidic Suite. Es blüht in mir.
2 Hebrew Songs. 3 Love Songs for Jehuda Halevy.
4 Songs to Texts by Chinese Poets
Tehila Nini Goldstein (sop); Jascha Nemtsov (pn); Frank Reinecke (vn); Stefan Fehlandt (va); Stephan Forck (vc); Eleonore Pameijer (fl)
PROFIL 12023 (2 CDs: 100:00 Text and Translation)
These are the first-ever recordings of music by Jakob Schönberg (1900–56), a now-forgotten composer and compiler of Hebrew and Palestinian melodies. Due primarily to this fusion with classical forms, Schönberg was marginalized not only by the Nazis but even by German musicians and musicologists, who were much more interested in 12-tone music and its related forms to pay much attention to a man with only one published composition to his name (
Land von unser Vergangenheit
) and who defected to England for safety during the war and stayed in America after it.
Nevertheless, my general impression of Schönberg’s music is of a restless, bitonal composer who reveled in the ancient modes of Middle Eastern music the same way Bartók reveled in the ancient modes of Magyar music. Schönberg’s music is consistently interesting, being both rhythmically and melodically varied. One can never quite predict where he is going in any given piece; both the initial themes and their transitions sound odd; but in the end it all makes perfect sense and he never quite deserts a tonal or at least a modal core to his music, even when the harmonies become quite far-out indeed. In short, this is music of very high creativity that does not deserve oblivion. Moreover, in the
for solo piano, Schönberg shows his skill in combining certain older classical forms, such as writing for two contrasting voices in canon. Oddly enough, except for the introduction of certain tone clusters, this particular piece is not of the greatest technical difficulty; I would place it as medium difficult. But technical difficulty is not a criterion for judging the quality of a piece of music, and this—like all of Schönberg’s music—shows a very high level of invention.
Schönberg’s songs have a tremendous emotional appeal and sound like modern attempts to fuse Hebrew and classical music. In this instance, at least, he was far ahead of his time; hear the
Two Hebrew Songs
Three Love Songs by Jehuda Halevy
with their strophic construction and excited rhythms. Nor was Schönberg a mere adapter of Hebrew and Palestinian themes into conventional classical forms, as were Bloch with
or Max Bruch with
Listen carefully, for instance, to the violin-piano sonata that closes CD 1. This is music of profound depth, not only musically but emotionally, which generally allows the folk material to dictate the direction and form of the composition. This seems to me exactly the opposite of Bloch or Bruch, who simply constructed academically acceptable classical forms
the melodies they chose to use. Neither is wrong, but they are very different approaches to composition. In the 17-minute Piano Quartet in one movement, Schönberg presents us with possibly his thorniest and most challenging piece, yet one that also never loses its rhythmic excitement.
Here is a case where one must give great credit to the man who rediscovered Schönberg, Jascha Nemtsov, who spent years tracking down these compositions from their far-flung abodes. Nevertheless, as I know full well from bitter personal experiences, one cannot present a good case for unfamiliar music via mediocre or poor performances, and in this case Profil is lucky indeed to procure the talents of an exceptional group of musicians. If I single out soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein for special excellence, it is because her bright, crystalline voice is both secure and beautiful, and her diction is splendid—not qualities common to all lesser-known singers nowadays—but violinist Frank Reinecke and pianist Jascha Nemtsov are also outstanding. My lone complaint is that the album is rather short, but possibly this was because Jakob Schönberg didn’t write as much music as his more famous namesake. Quite simply, this album is an ear-opener.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Es blüht in mir by Jakob Schönberg
Tehila Nini Goldstein (Soprano),
Jascha Nemtsov (Piano)
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