“Entartete Musik” = BERNHARD HEIDEN: Sonata; PAUL DESSAU: Suite; ERWIN DRESSEL: Bagatellen; ERWIN SCHULHOFF: Hot-Sonate; PAUL HINDEMITH: Sonata; WOLFGANG JACOBI: Sonata; HANS GAL: Suite; ERNST-LOTHAR von KNORR: Sonata – Duo Disecheis – Brilliant Classics (2-CDs)

“Entartete Musik” = BERNHARD HEIDEN: Sonata; PAUL DESSAU: Suite; ERWIN DRESSEL: Bagatellen; ERWIN SCHULHOFF: Hot-Sonate; PAUL HINDEMITH: Sonata; WOLFGANG JACOBI: Sonata; HANS GAL: Suite, Op.102b; ERNST-LOTHAR von KNORR: Sonata– Duo Disecheis (David Brutti, alto sax/Filippo Farinelli, p.) – Brilliant Classics (2-CDs) 94874, TT: 95:50 (8/26/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

One will say, correctly, that these works are fairly obscure, even to saxophonists, because they do, after all, come under the title of Entartete Musik— what the Nazis declared “Degenerate Music” (essentially anything written by Jews or in a non-Aryan, non-Wagnerian mode and – certainly – jazz and/or the saxophone.)

The trick to evaluating these pieces is that – aside from the fact that the composers represented were in many ways shunned or banned by Hitler – they are all quite different and represent a range of styles and, perhaps, of quality.

As a recital concept my kudos to David Brutti and Filippo Farinelli for picking such an unusual array and for offering such excellent and dedicated performances! I’ve always liked good  classical saxophone playing and Brutti has lovely tone and impressive technique. Ditto for the technical and musicality aspects of Farinelli’s playing as well.

I did find the music a bit of a mixed bag. The opening Sonata by Bernhard Heiden is a wonderful, sweeping showpiece that Hindemith fans will think was a product of Hindemith for all its stylistic similarity. (Heiden also wrote a fine clarinet Sonatina that is every bit as obscure). The Suite by Paul Dessau is an entertaining jazz-tinged work that has some intentionally over-stated pitch bends in the exaggerated final movement.

It is important to know that some of the works in this collection were written for the legendary amazing saxophonist Sigurd Rascher. Such is the case with the Dessau Suite and the wildly frenetic Sonata by Ernst-Lothar Knorr. It is also true of the Sonata of Wolfgang Jacobi, which features a near abandonment of traditional harmony and vacillates throughout its movements between the lyrical and the bizarre, but in a fascinating way.  I must say that those works—the Heiden, the Dessau, the Jacobi and the Knorr—were my favorites in this eclectic mix.

The other works just did not leave as strong an impression. In particular, I found the Bagatellen by Erwin Dressel mostly pretty but somewhat inconsequential. I felt the same way about the Hans Gal Suite. Erwin Schulhoff’s Hot-Sonate is a strange work actually written to evoke a German jazz radio station. It is a clever, if somewhat nervous-sounding work, and its composer sadly died in a concentration camp.

Lastly, I am a life-long admirer of the music of Paul Hindemith, most likely the biggest “name” composer in this set. I have even played the present Sonata for alto saxophone (or alto horn or French horn) before but definitely without the recitation of the lines from the poem “The Posthorn” between movements three and four. The work is pure Hindemith in its metrical approach and neo-Baroque rhythmic structures and open harmonies. This is just not his strongest piece and I have always found the reading a rather pompous distraction.

The best reason to acquire this generous two-disc set is for some really fine playing by the Duo Disecheis and, yes, for some relatively and somewhat unusual repertoire. Not all of these pieces will captivate you (….I don’t think) but they all deserve to be heard played well, as they are here.

—Daniel Coombs

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