Two musical faces of Erwin Schulhoff

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 Op. 11; Der Bürger as Edelmann, concert suite for piano, seven wind instruments and drums† Michael Rische, piano. WDR Symphony Orchestra Köln, conductor Israel Yinon (concert); Deutsches Symphonie- Orchester Berlin, conductor Gerd Albrecht (continued). 1998/99. Instructions in German and English. 51.36. Hanssler Classics HC21042.

Born in Prague into a Jewish family, Erwin Schulhoff, considered a child prodigy, entered the Prague Conservatory at the age of ten on the recommendation of Antonin Dvorak. At fourteen we find him in Leipzig, where he studied piano with Robert Teichmüller, a pupil of Carl Reinecke, and composition with Max Reger, before continuing his education in Cologne. In 1913 he also received some lessons from Debussy. He was drafted into the Austrian army during World War I and was wounded in action. After the conflict, concerts all over Europe and educational activities in Prague followed. Devoted communist sympathizer (in 1932 he put the Manifesto by Karl Marx), he took part in congresses in Russia. Attracted by the artistic avant-garde, in particular by the Dadaist movement, he also discovered American jazz thanks to the painter George Grosz. He was blacklisted by the Nazis in 1933. Obtaining Soviet citizenship prevented his arrest when Czechoslovakia was invaded in 1939, but when Hitler declared war on Russia in 1941, he was deported despite his attempts to cross to the East. A year later he died of tuberculosis in camp Wülzburg. Schulhoff left behind an abundant oeuvre: concerto and orchestral music (eight symphonies, the last of which is unfinished), stage and chamber music, vocal pages and pieces for piano.

His catalog includes two piano concertos, theopus 11 from 1913/14, and theopus 43 from 1923. This second is intended for keyboard accompanied by a small orchestra, which includes a finale based on jazz, and which was the subject of a beautiful recording by the Orchester Philharmonique Royal de Liège, conducted by Louis Langrée, with Claire-Marie Le Guay at the piano (Accord, 2004). Michael Rische (°1962) also recorded for Arte Nova in 2003, with pages from Gershwin and Antheil celebrating jazz. His current engraving of the first concerto, theopus 11, dated October 1998. It is a score in three parts, halfway between romanticism and atonality, a work by a composer in search of its specificity. Schulhoff is barely twenty years old, he remembers the lessons of Max Reger, and opens his concerto with strings in unison, the piano settles in a climate that is not virtuoso but full of elasticity. The short central movement, Slow and slow, which contains an exchange with wind instruments (two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns), also contains an alto solo. the Rondo finale, whose light agitation is suddenly slowed down by a languid passage, ends in an atmosphere full of youthfulness. One may prefer Michael Rische’s version to Jan Simon’s, who opted for more distant tempos with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (Supraphon, 1994, with the two concertos). The little work done can in any case be discovered. It should be noted that the Kölner Philharmoniker is conducted by Ysrael Yinon (1956-2015), who died during a concert in Lucerne while playing the Symphony of the Alps by Richard Strauss.

the sequel of Burgundian gentleman as a program complement, seems to be a much more remarkable score. It was commissioned in 1926 by the National Theater in Prague, which staged Molière’s comedy, but preferred a contemporary composition to Lully’s music. After the show had become a huge success, two years later Schulhoff decided to adapt the music in the form of a suite for piano, seven wind instruments and percussion, the first of which was given in October 1928, while Schulhoff was at the keyboard and Hermann Scherchen the leadership. The orchestration is original, full of inventiveness and imagination, and shows Schulhoff’s appeal to ragtime and jazz. We enjoy listening to this score in which wind players and percussion show sharpness and character. We will notice a good tempo and irresistible foxtrott with trumpet, oboe and xylophone, as well as the succession of dances of the last great ballet, offering a real moment of musical pleasure. If Richard Strauss opted for neoclassicism in the suite of the same name, Schulhoff tends more towards the atmosphere of Petrushka by Stravinsky that we spontaneously evoke during moments that seem to come from the commedia dell’arte. Michael Rische’s piano, all in bright colours, is ubiquitous in this magnificent score, whose regular presence at the concert would certainly draw support. Under the direction of Gerd Albrecht (1935-2014), the members of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin feel at ease with this engraving made on 21 and 22 November 1999, which was already available from Orfeo in the “Musica rediviva” series.

Sound: 9 Record: 9 Repertoire: 9 Interpretation: 8 (concert); 10 (continued)

John Lacroix

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