Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quartet No. 2 in a,
Seven Songs from
for Voice and Piano Trio,
Serenade for String Trio
Rahel Maria Rilling (vn);
Sara Maria Rilling (va);
class="ARIAL12">David Adorján (vc);
Paul Rivinius (pn);
Julia Sophie Wagner (sop);
Michael Nagy (bar)
HÄNSSLER 98010 (60:46)
Ordinarily, I’m not one given to superstition, but whenever a new release containing works by Robert Kahn (1865–1951) comes my way—and this is the fourth time that one has—I can’t help but be reminded that not long after my first encounter with the composer, on a disc of his songs sung by tenor Martin Dillon in 28:3, and my follow-up interview with him in 28:6, Dillon, who was planning a second album of Kahn’s songs, suddenly died. Since then, a number of artists have taken up Kahn’s instrumental and chamber works, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time since Dillon’s song recital that anyone has again ventured into Kahn’s songs, and on this CD are the same Seven Songs from
included on Dillon’s album.
As you can see from his dates, Robert Kahn lived a long life, which, in some cases, can be more of a curse than a blessing. Kahn was an exact contemporary of Richard Strauss (1864–1949), but he hitched his wagon to the mainstream German romantics, following in the footsteps of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. With the latter Kahn struck up a friendship, becoming part of the extended Brahms circle and authoring an essay titled
Recollections of Johannes Brahms
. But it was not entirely Kahn’s regressive musical tendencies that doomed him to obscurity, and this is where the curse of being long-lived reared its ugly head. The Jewish Kahn found himself in grave peril in Hitler’s Germany. He was forced to relinquish his membership in Berlin’s Prussian Academy of Arts, and his music was suppressed by the Nazis. Finally, in 1938, he, his wife, and their three daughters fled to England, where, barely two years later, they found themselves under bombardment in the Blitz.
By this time, of course, music history had moved on, but apparently Kahn hadn’t. I don’t know if a complete list of Kahn’s works has been compiled, but the latest work on the present disc, the Serenade for String Trio, was written in 1933, five years before Kahn left Germany, and the bulk of his output seems to date from the last decade or so of the 19th century and the first decade or so of the 20th. Much of Kahn’s published catalog, with opus numbers that run into the 70s, appears to consist of accompanied songs, but there is a good deal of chamber music, including a violin sonata, a string quartet, and multiple piano quartets, as well as at least one large concerted orchestral work, a
for piano and orchestra.
But the Serenade recorded here is without opus number and is referred to in the album note as a “late” work. So, what, or how much Kahn may have composed after he left Germany, and what he did during the remaining 13 years of his life after leaving for England in 1938 remain a bit of a mystery. But as best I can make out from an article on Kahn, published on the Internet in German, he seems to have composed nothing further after 1937. The booklet note cites a Kahn biography by Steffen Fahl, published in 1998, but I’ve not been able to obtain a copy of it; Amazon lists it as out of print.
In his time, Kahn’s talents as a pianist were highly sought out as a chamber-music partner by Joseph Joachim, Josef Szigeti, and Adolf Busch; and he accompanied celebrated singers such as Emmy Leisler and Emmy Destinn. He also held the post of professor of music at the Royal Academy in Berlin, where he taught composition and piano, his most famous students being Wilhelm Kempff and Ferdinand Leitner.
For the seven songs that make up Kahn’s
(Fountain of Youth) cycle, the composer drew upon a collection of poems and fairytales of the same title by German poet, playwright, novelist, and essayist Paul Heyse, and set them for voice and piano trio. Holger Schneider’s liner note suggests that Kahn chose the poems for their fanciful and fantastical nature, which he was sure would appeal to his daughters, two and five years of age at the time when the songs were written. Unfortunately, Hänssler has provided no texts or translations, but we are told that a third daughter, born in 1906, the same year that Kahn composed the songs, was to become the grandmother to the two Rillings, Rahel Maria and Sara Maria, who play violin and viola on this disc.
The A-Minor Piano Quartet dates from 1899 and is officially the composer’s No. 2 in the medium, the No. 1 in B Minor having preceded it in 1891. But in between there is mention of an A-Major score from 1894, now lost; and later, there is Kahn’s official No. 3 in C Minor, his last piano quartet, dated 1904.
As piano quartets go, the A Minor is a handsome work, filled with fetching melodies and harmonic gratuities that recall Schumann and Brahms, but it won’t unseat Schumann’s sole piano quartet for its melodic memorability or Brahms’s three piano quartets for their dramatic urgency.
The Serenade for String Trio is apparently among Kahn’s last works, and while it retains its deep-seated romantic core, the piece does give some evidence that the composer was not completely oblivious to somewhat more recent musical developments. Kahn now adopts a more contrapuntal approach, and while his harmony isn’t exactly dissonant, he engages in some strange-sounding modulations, which suggest he might have been influenced by the works of Max Reger.
With the exception of the
songs, which, as previously noted, were recorded by Martin Dillon (One Soul Records 100.1.04), I’m fairly confident you won’t find another recording of either the piano quartet or the serenade. Luckily, the performances and recording are very good. In fact, on a first hearing, I was impressed enough to consider this a potential candidate for my 2013 Want List. But on further listening, I concluded that these works just don’t quite rise to the level of collection “must-haves.” Now, Kahn’s Clarinet Trio in A Minor, op. 45, which has been recorded at least twice that I know of, is something else. That’s probably his masterpiece, and a work well worth having, which is not to say that you won’t enjoy the pieces on this CD too.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
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