GOTTFRIED VON EINEM: ‘Danton’s Tod’ – Orchestral Suite; Wandlungen; Konzert fur Klavier un Orchester; Nachtstuck; Medusa Suite – Konstantin Lifschitz, p./ Radio Sym. of Vienna/ Cornelius Meister – Orfeo

by | Nov 15, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

GOTTFRIED VON EINEM: ‘Danton’s Tod’ – Orchestral Suite, Op. 6a; Wandlungen Op. 21; Konzert fur Klavier un Orchester, Op. 20; Nachtstuck, Op. 29; ‘Medusa’ Ballet Suite, Op. 24 – Konstantin Lifschitz, piano/ Radio Symphony Orch. of Vienna (RSO Wien)/ Cornelius Meister  – Orfeo C764 091A, 75:39 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996) was, in many ways, a man out of place in history. Born in Berne, but raised and educated in Austria, Einem was a student of Boris Blacher’s and a lifelong admirer of Mahler. According to package notes in this fascinating collection, his Piano Concerto was written out of admiration for Alma Mahler and one cannot overlook some stylistic and thematic connections between Mahler’s obsession with the moods and atmospheres in night and von Einem’s own “Night Piece”. Essentially, at a time when Germany, Austria and much of Europe was still obsessed with serialism and thorny, somewhat didactic sounding constructions, Einem continued to write music that is largely tonal and possessed with moments of great conventional beauty, but not without mystery; even strangeness.

This is really a wonderful collection and introduction to this somewhat obscure master. The orchestral suite from his opera Danton’s Death (a seminal figure in the French revolution) is a very interesting work that stands well as almost a small tone poem. The composer’s intent was to take music from the opera and not make intentional references to particular scenes. The work succeeds, especially from a color and pallet perspective, inflected with good woodwind writing and passages that are even jazz influenced, so it seems. Von Einem takes a similar approach in his suite from his ballet, “Medusa”. This, too, is a very colorful work and – in both cases – works well as a standalone concert piece. The original stage works do live through some very solid recordings, also available on the Orfeo label, but are hardly ever performed in their original guise.

The two pieces on this disc that really stand out for me, however, are the Piano Concerto and the Night Piece. The Piano Concerto, Op. 20 is written in three-movement form (Molto moderato, Adagio with much warmth & Allegro con spirit). According to package notes, succinctly but informatively crafted by Otto Biba, the piece follows more of a ‘concertante’ format with some constant orchestral melodic exposition and solo reaction and response. In fact, the third movement is a highlight unto itself with three separate ritornelli and some jazz influenced melodies and riffs. The piece as a whole is written in broad lines and some interesting harmonies. This is a very nice work and should be thought of with other solid mid-twentieth century piano concerti that deserve to be played more.

The Night Piece, similarly, is a captivating, somewhat strange gem. This work is one of several that the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned on the theme of “night” and von Einem’s is the only one of these small works to still get some play and recording. A very beautiful, eerie in places, sound pervades the score. Despite its overall slow tempo there is a nervous energy in place carried by a plaintive figure in the upper strings. This is not, as Einem has commented, a “depiction” of night but rather an evocation of the moods and atmosphere that are often associated with nocturnal things and situations. There is an exotic half-asleep quality to the timbres and orchestration that does sound reminiscent of the same effects in the Mahler 7th Symphony, in my view.

Lastly, the “Wandlungen” (Transformation) Op. 21, is a rather odd little work written after a Mozart aria (from The Magic Flute). Von Einem was one of twelve composers to contribute a movement to a larger work for the Mozart bicentennial (1956) "12 Aspects of the aria ‘ein Madchen oder Weibchen’ ". The vestiges of the Mozart original are present in this short six minute piece that has three small sections within, but the overall effect is not as strong as the other works on this program.

This is a good introductory disc to the music of von Einem and, although the when and where this music was written is certainly an oddity in context, most would find it attractive, interesting and worth exploring. The playing by the RSO Wien and certainly that of pianist Konstantin Lifschitz is top notch and production values are quite good!

— Daniel Coombs

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