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Lost Generation
Erwin SHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Double Concerto for Flute, Piano and String Orchestra with two horns Op. 63 (1927) [19.57]
Sonata for Flute and Piano Op. 61 (1927) [13.39]
Three Pieces for String Orchestra Op. 6 (1914) [9.39]
Vilem TAUSKÝ (1910-2004)
Coventry-Meditation for String Orchestra (1941) [8.14]
Victor ULLMANN (1898-1944)
Chamber Symphony Op. 46a (String Quartet No. 3 Op. 46 (1944) arr. string orchestra by Kenneth Woods) [13.20]
Ulrike Anton (flute); Russell Ryan (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/David Parry
rec. 19-21 March 2012, Parish Church of St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London
GRAMOLA 98964 [65.25] 

The phrase ‘Lost Generation’ is one which seems to crop up often disingenuously and quite regularly. It certainly applies to the musicians and composers of Czech / German / Jewish families who happened to have had the misfortune to be anywhere near the influence of the Nazis in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Over the last twenty years or so their forgotten and neglected music has been recorded, sometimes several times over. Its very particular and complex style and sound-world is often based on the folk rhythms and the modal scales of Moravia or on Jewish ancestry. This is mixed with Prokofiev-type dissonance, Jazz and even a touch of neo-classicism.
 
In the case of Erwin Schulhoff, the first of these figures that I got to know and a man who died of pneumonia in Auschwitz, all of these styles are captured with a highly chromatic late-romantic passion. I remember the impression made on me by his Sextet of 1924 coupled at that time with works by a composer of a similar stylistic bent, Bohuslav Martinu (Hyperion CDA66516).
 
Schulhoff’s Double Concerto, scored for flute, piano with two horns and string orchestra is more in the neo-classical line, being in three movements with flanking Allegros. I found a Czech recording in my collection on the Panton label (81 1308-2) and compared the two. I preferred the drive of the 1980 Czech performance under Zdenek Kosler in the third movement and the slower more reflective speed of their middle movement but that recording is a little boxy. It is a piece typical of its period and lacks the profundity of the above mentioned Sextet or the Third Symphony. Still, it has a considerable charm and has many fascinating textures gained by the unique scoring. It was, quite understandably, a popular piece for a while and was played in several European centres and taken up by the leading conductors of the day. Anton, Ryan and Parry make an excellent team and the English Chamber Orchestra clearly enjoy this rarely played work.
 
The CD includes two other works by Schulhoff both on a smaller scale. The four movement Flute Sonata is generally light-weight but interesting for the players. The spirit of Debussy hangs vaguely over the first and third movements. The general mood speaks of the essence of Les Six. The finale, which is an Allegro Vivace Rondo, could easily be by Poulenc or Auric. All areas of the flute’s range are explored and as in the Concerto, Ulrike Anton’s tone is consistent, strongly graded and clearly projected. It’s especially rich and beautiful in the very lowest range.
 
If you think, when you hear the first movement of Schulhoff’s early Three Pieces for String Orchestra, that you have walked into Grieg’s Holberg Suite then you would be quite right. It is subtitled ‘Elegy in the style of Grieg’. It’s rather light-hearted for an Elegy, but never mind. In fact all Three Pieces are very pleasing and tuneful - easy listening. The second one is a Minuetto and Trio in an ‘olden style’. Dance influence is a special feature of Schulhoff’s music and the lively third is another ternary structure marked ‘Pipa tanzt’.
 
Vilem Tauský is relatively well known name. He emigrated from the then Czechoslovakia and arrived in England to escape the pogroms. He was also a conductor and indeed Janacek’s last pupil. His Coventry-Meditation for String Orchestra was written soon after the bombing of Coventry. It is a beautiful, almost pastoral work, deeply atmospheric and rewarding despite its subject matter. Tauský had experienced urban bombs in London. The performance brings out every moment of melancholy and pity in the harmonies. It also seems that he knew Schulhoff, Gideon Klein and Pavel Haas very well but never spoke of them.
 
Before I listened to Victor Ullmann’s Chamber Symphony, I heard again the original version of the Third String Quartet as recorded by the Hawthorn Quartet (Channel Classics CCS 1691). It’s a fine version. I found myself wondering why Kenneth Woods or anyone else would want to turn it into a version for String orchestra. Several of Ullmann’s pieces exist in various adaptations - the Piano Sonata No. 7, for example, was developed into a Symphony. However having heard this new version I was moved and impressed. The first movement, at least under Parry’s direction, comes out, slower and in a much more romantic way and loses its tough edge. The Presto second movement is much more aggressive. The desolate Largo, based on a twelve tone passage had, surprisingly, much more forward propulsion. It works out one minute faster than the Hawthorns version. The finale after a short fugue re-quotes the opening, which in the quartet version sounds hopelessly sad and desperate. In this chamber version sounds it like triumph overcoming the most awful horror and difficulties. As Woods remarks in his notes “If ever a person wrote truly courageous music, it was surely Ullmann and this is surely the music.”
 
Too many words both on the net and in print have been devoted to the demise of Schulhoff, Ullmann and their tragic contemporaries and not enough on simply discussing and playing the music. These booklet notes totally exemplify the problem. Kenneth Woods’ extensive and lengthy essay gives the socio-political background associated with the composers and their country and is interesting in itself. However it manages to say next to nothing about the music. In addition there is also an equally long essay by the recording’s sponsors pithily entitled ‘Reflections on the History of Bank Austria during the National Socialist Era’. This, amongst other things, talks about the rescuing of the art plundered by the Nazis.
 
Gary Higginson 

See also reviews by Rob Barnett, Jonathan Woolf and Byzantion

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