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Ervín SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Hot Music: Suite dansante en jazz, WV98 (1931) [13’24]. Piano Suite No. 1, WV69 (1924) [13’02]. Cinq Etudes de jazz, WV81 (1926) [12’06]. Second Suite, WV71 (1924) [9’34]. Elf Inventionen, WV57 (1921) [16’57]. Hot Music: Zehn synkopierte Etüden, WV92 (1928) [10’53].
Kathryn Stott (piano)
Rec. Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, Sweden in June 2001 DDD
BIS CD1249 [79’40]
Czech composer Ervín Schulhoff is enjoying something of a flowering. His music now turns up on concert programmes with more regularity: see my reviews of Midori’s account of the Violin Sonata (http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2002/Aug02/midori.htm) and Gottlieb Wallisch’s performance of the Piano Concerto (http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2001/Nov01/youth.htm). Czech record company Supraphon has also issued a fair number of discs of Schulhoff’s music. He has been further highlighted as part of the group of composers who were forced to attend concentration camps. Most famous of these camps, possibly, is Theresienstadt, although Schulhoff was to meet his end in Wülzburg.

Schulhoff numbered Reger as one of his teachers, although his music encompassed a diversity of styles. The title of the present disc, ‘Hot Music’, points towards the jazz influences which preoccupied him. Schulhoff was introduced to jazz by the Dadaist artist George Grotz. Of course, this was one factor that troubled the Nazis (because of the African-American element). Tellingly, Schulhoff wrote in 1919 that, ‘Music should first and foremost produce physical pleasures’: much of the music on this disc adheres to this, even becoming slinkily sensual at times.

The six movements of the Suite dansante de jazz collectively provide the best, most approachable introduction to Schulhoff imaginable. The bright ‘Stomp’ which opens the group and the swing of ‘Strait’ contrast well with the ‘Waltz’, which at 4’22 benefits from being the longest movement. Stott brings care and delicacy as well as swing and panache to her reading.

Lasting almost the same amount of time as the Suite, the First Piano Sonata (of five Schulhoff completed) is made up of one span, subdivided into several sections. Stott provides really considered, prepared playing: all the notes of the tricky first section speak with a clarity that enables the piece to buzz with energy. The Molto tranquillo, contrasting in mood, is a lovely quasi-improvisation that is nevertheless not at all diffuse. Instead, it is spellbinding in its progress towards its climax. Although the finale brims with energy, it is the ‘Allegro moderato grotesco’ that is the highlight. True to the grotesque indication, it also manages to be playful, with a lovely touch in its final gestures, which lead directly into the last movement.

The Cinq Etudes de jazz is (compositionally) quite held back, perhaps surprisingly given the title. The first movement is recognisably a Charleston, but a virtuoso one. The final ‘Toccata sur le shimmy ‘Kitten on the keys’’ is similarly impressive, and these frame three affecting pieces, including a remarkably delicate Tango.

The figure of J. S. Bach is invoked in the Toccatina of the Second Suite of 1924 (where Stott’s fingerwork is quite simply remarkable). Per Broman’s excellent booklet notes refer to the influence of Ravel on this piece. Indeed Tombeau de Couperin (1917) does seem to lurk around in the shadows.

Interestingly, the eleven Inventions are notated minus barlines. This piece is dedicated to Ravel. The booklet notes state that here Schulhoff’s music lies closer to Debussy and indeed, and separately, my own listening notes referred to Cathédrale engloutie in relation to the first Invention of the set (marked, ‘Lento’). The final movement is marked, ‘Allegro brutalemente’, as opposed to ‘martellato’, although the effect is similar. Perhaps the most interesting is the capricious ninth Invention, Presto leggiero, although at 26 seconds, blink and you miss it.

The Hot Music elaborates and extends the syncopations of the ragtime genre, taking it to various regions (China in the case of No. 5!).

Musically, this disc is perfectly arranged to provide an entertaining eighty minutes of listening. As an interpreter, Stott is near-ideal (her previous recordings for Conifer had already confirmed her status). Strongly, enthusiastically recommended.

Colin Clarke



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