SCHULHOFF: Music for Piano Solo = Suite Dansante en jazz; 11 Inventions, Op. 36; Sonata No. 3; Partita for Clavier – Michal Tal, p. – Centaur CRC 3375, 62:50 (11/11/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Recorded 26-27 June 2013 at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel, we have a substantial cross-section of the piano music of Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), one of brighter stars of that Jewish generation in Europe whose fates took a fatal turn with the advent of Nazism. A resident of both Cologne and Prague, Schulhoff absorbed a number of Bohemian and jazz influences, confessing to Alban Berg in 1921 of Schulhoff’s “tremendous passion for the fashionable dances. . .purely out of rhythmic enthusiasm and subconscious sensuality.”
Michal Tal – a pupil of Richard Goode, Arie Vardi, and Gilbert Kalish – opens with Schulhoff’s 1931 Suite Dansante en Jazz, a six-movement homage to popular dances in the manner of a Baroque suite. In the course of ragtime, tango, foxtrot, and waltz tempos we hear various and energetic reminiscences of Gershwin, Joplin, sundry blues exponents, and the Debussy side of cakewalk. Devoted to “socialist” aesthetic on the “people’s art,” Schulhoff felt that a synthesis of classical formality with jazz represented an easy vehicle for a populist appreciation of stylistic music that represented the energies of proletarian social life.
The 11 Inventions (1921) capture the experimental attitude fostered by the Second Viennese School. Highly condensed, the longest of the set last barely two minutes. A flurry of impressions marks their elusive affect, remnants of melody or dark harmonic clusters that ring, plod, or shimmer in the manner of Schoenberg and Scriabin. Mostly atonal, the pieces circumvent bar lines and traditional cadences, rather exploring a somber bass line rife with nervous tension. The more sprightly, staccato or glissando exercises – the Deciso, for instance – might remind some auditors of Shostakovich. The last of the set, Moderato brutalemente, confirms in contrapuntal, jagged motion Schulhoff’s estimation of his character as “incredibly earthy, even bestial.”
The Sonata No. 3 (1927) once more reverts to a five-movement “suite” arrangement, blending diverse styles of Neoclassicism, pentatonic harmony, Bartok’s pounding and ostinato rhythm, folk impulses, and something of the Janacek askew melodic line. The structure proves to be cyclic, renegotiating motor elements from the opening Moderato cantabile in the Retrospectivo movement at the conclusion. The Bulgarian rhythm of the first movement proves quite electric, and we might consider this piece for a competition entry or a more popular encore. Improvisazione plays like a bluesy, dark-hued parlando, a kind of askew torch-song that picks up the tempo and the ornaments in its last half-minute, a bit in reminiscent of Debussy’s Fireworks. The Allegro molto, pure and simple, proffers a light-handed moto perpetuo in contrapuntal figures. Akin to Alban Berg’s expressive atonality, the Marcia funebra provides a second slow movement with its own Jazz influences.
The fusion of Bach and jazz finds an expansive vehicle in the Partita fuer klavier (1922), an eight-movement suite entirely beguiled by dance forms and milieus, like the most expansive piece, “Boston.” The influence of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, however, renders the textures thin and spare, more rhythmic than filled out texturally, literally “jazz-like.” The “Tango-rag” has a family resemblance to a Debussy opus, Le plus que lente. The fourth movement, “Tempo di fox a la hawaii,” and the miniature “Rag” sixth movement ripple with Gershwin’s economical wit. “Tango” does convey a degree of sultry eroticism, but the means remain academic rather than inspired. The finale, “Shimmy – Jazz,” too, enjoys the rhythmic life without the melodic gift that would immortalize this Partita in jazz annals.
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