This is the latest volume, with more to follow, in Gramola's 'exil.arte'
series. 'Exil.arte' (styled without capitals) is an organization which
"operates as a centre for the reception, preservation and research
of Austrian composers, performers, musical academics and thinkers
who, during the years of the 'Third Reich' were branded as 'degenerate',
[and the] assessment and restitution of such a multi-faceted cultural
inheritance'. A worthy enterprise indeed, and one which has already
produced valuable results, from a CD of Hans Gál's chamber
works for flute and violin (Gramola 98896), to a double-disc collection
of lieder by Walter Arlen - a Jew who emigrated in 1939 to America,
where he still lives, now in his nineties (98946-47).
The appearance of this disc times perfectly with the revelations,
both shocking and yet unsurprising, concerning the Vienna Philharmonic's
involvement with the Nazi regime during and after the War. More insidious
than the fact that half the orchestra were members of the NSPD, the
driving out of 13 musicians who were, like Schulhoff, Ullmann and
Tauský, Jewish by origin or association, and five of whom died
in concentration camps, reverberates through the pages of booklet
and score alike on this disc.
Viktor Ullmann was murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Before
he was moved there he wrote much music at the Theresienstadt concentration
camp, including his Third String Quartet. There seems no compelling
reason to arrange it for string orchestra as Kenneth Woods has done,
but if Rudolf Barshai can make such an effective job of transcribing
Shostakovich's quartets, then Woods is surely justified. Unfortunately,
his notes on Ullmann discuss only the masterliness of the original
Quartet, with no insight into his motivation for transcription. However,
in the Arranger's Note in the preface to the score, Woods explains
how, inspired by Barshai and Mahler transcriptions he had conducted,
he set about the process: "I could easily imagine that the drama,
violence and intensity of the Ullmann would work wonderfully with
string orchestra. Likewise, Ullmann's lyricism and coloristic genius
come across equally as well in the expanded ensemble as in the original
version. Of course, the most creative aspect of such an arrangement
is the creation of a double bass part. [...] I was inspired by the
capabilities of many of my bassist colleagues and friends, whose virtuosity
concedes nothing to the finest violinists or pianists." Unfortunately,
the textural and tonal brilliance of Woods' version is modified by
the slightly thin sound of Gramola's engineering - a surprise perhaps,
given the recording location and production team involved.
This marginally lossy quality does not however noticeably affect Schulhoff's
strings-free Flute Sonata. An introspective third movement aside,
it is a jaunty, neo-classical affair, lightly modernist in outlook
but audience-friendly in practice. The finale has a particularly memorable
tune. Schulhoff's Three Pieces for string orchestra are an early work,
and the harmonic language is instantly accessible, oddly English-sounding
- or indeed Scandinavian, in the first-movement à la Grieg
- and far from Schulhoff's looming Dadaist phase. Neither essential
nor quintessential Schulhoff, however, and again the audio depth is
compromised. Less affected is Schulhoff's Double Concerto which in
scoring terms is something of a curio, but typical of the composer,
the full ambit of whose musical imagination, miserably curtailed in
a concentration camp, still remains largely unappreciated by posterity.
Happily, Vilém Tauský was not one of the lost generation.
On the contrary, he lived a full life, some odd and very English highlights
of which included involvement in the British brass band scene, a CBE,
and regular appearances leading the BBC Concert Orchestra on what
is today the world's longest-running live music programme on radio,
'Friday Night is Music Night'. His Coventry Meditation
memory of those who died and suffered in the merciless blitzkrieg
inflicted on the titular city in 1940, brings the recording to an
appropriately elegiac, though never maudlin, end.
Unlike the audio, performances are of an unstintingly high quality.
Flautist Ulrike Anton, Austria's only presence on the disc, merits
a special mention for her virtuosic yet characterful accounts of Schulhoff's
sonata and concerto. Besides her appearance on the above-mentioned
Gál disc, she has also recorded Haydn's complete flute trios
for Gramola (98878). According to its 'biography', the ECO has a discography
amounting to a record-breaking 857 recordings, so in one respect this
is just another day at the office. Yet its reputation is hard-earned,
and there is never any hint that the orchestra is not fully conversant
with even the obscurest of scores. David Parry's own reputation has
chiefly come from the opera world, but he similarly shows no lack
of familiarity with this kind of repertoire.
The German-English booklet notes are excellent: long essays on Schulhoff
and Tauský by Michael Haas - once of Decca's celebrated 'Entartete
Musik' series - and on Ullmann by Kenneth Woods, all in pleasingly
idiomatic translations. As if that were not enough, there is an even
longer article by Ulrike Zimmerl with the intriguing title 'Reflections
on the History of Bank Austria during the National Socialist Era'.
This is in fact a frank account of the role of named capitalist financial
institutions in the sustenance of Nazism, and makes for politically
charged reading. Finally, with regard to a different kind of lost
generation, the ECO's CV ends with an exhortation for readers to "become
a fan of ECO on Facebook and follow us on Twitter."
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
See also review by Rob