Notes and Editorial Reviews
During the inter-war period, in the cities of the West, a younger generation found ways to enjoy life in the form of dances such as shimmies, foxtrots, tangos and Charlestons: strong rhythms that became a symbol of a carefree and decadent era. The new jazz craze took hold everywhere, and Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf became an overnight sensation. The inter-war Zeitgeist in Vienna and the Czech lands is reflected in a programme full of première recordings – many of which were hits in their day – rich with fashionable dynamism, syncopation and joie de vivre. Born in Vienna, Gottlieb Wallisch first appeared on the concert platform when he was seven years old, and at the age of twelve made his debut in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. A concert directed by Yehudi Menuhin in 1996 launched Wallisch’s international career: accompanied by the Sinfonia Varsovia, the seventeen-year-old pianist performed Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto. Since then Wallisch has received invitations to the world’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals including Carnegie Hall in New York, Wigmore Hall in London, the Cologne Philharmonie, the Tonhalle Zurich, and the NCPA in Beijing, also the Ruhr Piano Festival, the Beethovenfest in Bonn, the Festivals of Lucerne and Salzburg, December Nights in Moscow, and the Singapore Arts Festival.
While jazz-inspired music by the likes of Stravinsky and Weill has never been forgotten, the similar efforts of dozens of other composers from the same period have fallen into obscurity. Now some of those experiments are enjoying a fresh hearing. The German pianist Gottlieb Wallisch’s revealing and entertaining new recording is mostly made up of world-premiere recordings of these dance-oriented works, in their piano arrangements.
By grouping these works geographically, he said, he anticipates creating “an encyclopedia of music from this time.” The second volume in the series — devoted to pieces by German composers — is scheduled for release in the fall.
If you’ve heard of the Czech composer Jaromir Weinberger, it’s likely for the Polka from his opera “Schwanda the Bagpiper.” (Herbert von Karajan was a devotee of that orchestral excerpt.) But he also composed an entry in the annals of the jazz-age dance known as the shimmy, garlanding his miniature with streaks of New World suavity.
In a 1925 lecture, the Austrian composer Ernst Krenek asked aloud what the listening public wanted. “The answer,” he continued, “will perhaps be somewhat frightening: none other than dance music.” The arrangement on Mr. Wallisch’s recording was created by the composer Jeno Takacs as part of a potpourri of selections from the opera.
Jaroslav Jezek’s “Bugatti Step” was, when it was written, a calling card for its composer — including with the “jazz orchestra” that he led at the time. Mr. Wallisch’s take on the solo piano arrangement of the piece is a cut above several other contemporary performances. He has plenty of forward motion, but his way of approaching Jezek’s propulsive writing results in a smooth ride. “It’s not a Charleston or a quick-fox,” he said. “I don’t think it needs the fast-as-possible tempo.”
– New York Times