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Lost Generation
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Double Concerto, for flute, piano and string orchestra with two horns, WV89, Op.63 (1927) [19:57]
Flute Sonata, WV86, Op.61 (1927) [13:39]
Three Pieces for String Orchestra, WV5, Op.6 (1910) [9:37]
Viktor ULLMANN (1898-1944)
Chamber Symphony, Op.46a arranged from the String Quartet No.3, Op.46 (1943) by Kenneth Woods [13:20]
Vilem TAUSKÝ (1910-2004)
Coventry – Meditation for String Orchestra (1941) [8:14]
Ulrike Anton (flute) and Russell Ryan (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/David Parry
rec. March 2012, Parish Church, St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead,
GRAMOLA 98964 [65:25]

The Lost Generation of composers here is Czech. Over the last two decades the names of Schulhoff and Ullmann have become increasingly visible and numerous recordings of their music have attested to the very personal qualities, and very different means, pursued by both. Decca has been an especially active agent with an extensive series devoted to such music, but other labels have been busy too.
 
This Gramola disc begins with a performance of Schulhoff’s Double Concerto for Flute, Piano and Strings, written in 1927. This revels in the busy, lissom neo-classical Franco-Czech style also cultivated by Martinu. It was inspired by the French flautist virtuoso René Le Roy. When the orchestral badinage thins to flute and piano exchanges the logic of the distribution between the two instruments becomes clearer, though it’s true to say that the flute takes the lion’s share. Schulhoff could also draw on a kind of post-impressionist orchestral palette, as he does in the Andante, whilst returning to the clarity of the opening in the finale. This is a richly pointed affair.
 
The Flute Sonata is a better-known work, one again inspired by the composer’s friendship with Le Roy, and sharing the same date of composition, 1927. It’s cast in four movements rich in French clarity, with especially fast tonguing required in the scherzo. The Aria is quite cool but the finale is exciting. It sits a little oddly in the otherwise all-orchestral context. We also hear the Three Pieces for String Orchestra, Op.6, which were written when he was 16; charming reminiscences of Grieg though lightly spiced so as to avoid pastiche and a central one a touch more up to date.
 
Vilem Tauský’s Coventry is the English Lidice though the notes are wide of the mark in suggesting Delius as an influence: Vaughan Williams, yes.
 
Viktor Ullmann is represented by the Chamber Symphony, Op.46a which is actually an arrangement, by Kenneth Woods, of the String Quartet No.3. Written in 1943 it’s saturated in rich lyricism and strong rhythmic drive. Curiously the expansion makes it sound more late-Tchaikovskian in places than in the Quartet original, and the waltz figures can sound almost like the Britten of the Bridge Variations. The expressive crux of the matter is the slow movement, a most beautiful one, whilst the finale is taut, intense, with a defiant quality turning ultimately to hopeful belief. String orchestra arrangements, such as this one, are usually slower than the quartet originals, but interestingly this one is quicker than the only quartet performance I know, which is by the Kocian Quartet. The difference is largely in the slow movement which the Kocian play more intensely and slowly.
 
This is a very worthwhile addition to the catalogues. The Schulhoff Double Concerto gets a finely disciplined performance and the Flute Sonata is well balanced, though others have given it a faster reading. Ullmann’s Chamber Symphony takes on valid life in its expansion, though I always remain ambivalent about such reworking. Woods’ workmanship is not in doubt, however, nor the performance.
 
There is an extensive booklet in German and English. Included is a five-page essay on one of the disc’s sponsors, Bank Austria’s shameful history during the National Socialist Era.
 
Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Rob Barnett


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