Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Roger SESSIONS (1896-1985); Stephan WOLPE (1902-1972)

Violin Concerto (1935) [28.53] Paul Zukofsky (violin)
Symphony (1956) [25.53]

  Orchestre Philharmonique/Gunther Schuller (Sessions); Orchestra of the 20th Century/Arthur Weisburg
 CRI American masters CD676  [54.57]
Amazon USA

Chacun a son goût! This is just a short note to welcome the first opportunity to hear Stephan Wolpe's legendary Symphony in Three Movements of 1955, in what appears to have been its first (and live) recording in New York of 1981 (originally available on CRI SD 503). Wolpe was a radical composer and a restless man, a citizen of the world who lived in several countries, none of which embraced him wholeheartedly. The influence of Webern, with whom he studied after fleeing from Berlin in 1933, is evident, and Stravinsky is not far behind. Later New York, Philadelphia & Darmstadt figure.

He is something of a cult figure, recently recorded fairly extensively on CD. His Enactments for three pianos (& three page turners whose task, as I recall, was little less demanding than that of the pianists!) was of mind-boggling complexity, and is well remembered as a highlight of a summer festival at South Bank of a programme selected by Harrison Birtwistle, before minimal music and easy listening took over marketing support and that annual event went determinedly down-market.

The music of the Symphony is quick-thinking, with rapid changes and combinations of sonority. It is a lucid, but engagingly wayward, work based upon a two-bar theme of eight tones heard at the beginning. The first movement is relatively placid, but the second is energetic, with angular, strident music 'splintered & dispersed with increasing intensity'. The third is exuberant & athletic, with a Stravinskian feel and passages of scherzando fun, leading eventually to a cooler coda. We have listened to it some four times and found attention easily maintained - it is the sort of music which needs repetition to absorb it and is ideal for a CD because opportunities to hear it live are likely to remain rare. Without having seen the score, my impression is that this performance was somewhat rough and ready, and that it could make a far more persuasive impression with a specialist conductor like Knussen or Brabins, and would benefit from modern recording - the balance here is sometimes odd.

In contrast to the Wolpe, I found the Sessions concerto failed to engage or retain my interest; a rather academic and dour piece, which I would not seek to hear again.

Wolpe can more easily be approached through his piano music, which is recorded by Geoffrey Douglas Madge on CPO 999 055-2  [mid-price], and on Largo 5120 by the composer's daughter Katerina Wolpe (who is not quite equal to Stephan Wolpe's extreme virtuosic demands).

Peter Grahame Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett  who found the sessions more engaging than the Wolpe. As Peter says Chacun a son goût!

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