Simon LAKS (1901-1983)
Symphony for strings (1964) [20:44]
Sinfonietta for strings (1936) [15:38] Philipp JARNACH (1892-1982) Musik zum Gedächtnis der Einsamen arr. for string orchestra (1952) [14:34]
NFM Leopoldinum Chamber Orchestra/Hartmut Rohde
rec. KGHM Main Concert Hall, National Forum of Music, Wroclaw, 17-18 November 2015, 20 March 2016 CPO 555027-2 [51:13]
CPO continue to educate and delight and not necessarily in that order. Here the twentieth century works they usher into the light are for string orchestra.
I had not previously heard of Laks although Dominy Clements has reviewed an EDA disc of his chamber music. The EDA label has further works by Laks including his opera L’Hirondelle inattendue (EDA35). More accessible to the purchaser is Laks' Cello Sonata (1932) as championed by Raphael Wallfisch - who cares passionately about extending the repertoire - on Nimbus. I knew Jarnach's name; he completed Busoni's opera Dr Faustus in 1952. An anthology of his chamber music is to be found on Capriccio.
Jarnach was born in France. A graduate of the Conservatoire de Paris his career took him to Zurich (where he was a pupil of Busoni), Berlin, Köln and Hamburg. His pupils included Weill, Luening, Zimmermann, Skalkottas and Colin Brumby. His Musik zum Gedächtnis der Einsamen is a single movement work of surging intensity. Its slowly pondering Bachian line is somewhat reminiscent of Roy Harris. It charts its way in cathedral-like magnificence to a quietly spiritual close.
Simon Laks was born in Warsaw. His life in music took him to Vienna in 1926. In Paris he meshed into the Polish ex-pat community. By 1942 he found himself in Auschwitz where he directed the orchestra. Later he was transferred to Dachau. Against the odds he survived and returned to Paris. His musical legacy includes songs, five string quartets and a Poème for violin and orchestra (1952). His post-war Symphony for Strings is a work of spiny, terse and sometimes robust athleticism. It's certainly not 'difficult' in any avant-garde sense. Across its four movements the music is tonal but without ingratiating allure or 'showboating'. The music is etched with a craftsman's skill and everything is laid out cleanly. Rhythmic interest is always given primacy. Very approximately speaking when listening to this music you might think in terms of Rawsthorne or Hindemith but with a honed edge. Almost thirty years earlier Laks had written his Sinfonietta. This is more emotionally yielding and playful - up to a point. The Serenades for Strings by Wirén and Antheil, dating from 1937 and 1946 respectively, are kindred spirits. The second movement's gentle insouciance is very attractive with a mobile pizzicato providing a stratum above which the high violins sing. A flighty third movement makes way for a bustling and cheery finale.
The liner-notes are by the conductor and I wished for more about the history of these two composers rather than analysis of the music we hear. The sound is immediate and the body of strings feels much larger than the numbers shown in the four photographs set out in the booklet - which is to the good.
While this disc dices with purchasers' affections with a short running time the choice of music is nothing less than admirable.