Wild 20s 900206

Der wilde Sound der 20er – 1923
Ernst Toch (1887-1964)
Tanz Suite for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, double bass and percussion, Op 30 (1923)
Kurt Weill (1900-1950)
Frauentanz, seven medieval poems for soprano, flute, viola, clarinet, French horn and bassoon, Op 10 (1923)
Ernst Krenek (1900-1991)
Three mixed choruses a cappella, Op 22 (1923)
Bela Bartok (1881-1945)
Tanz Suite for orchestra, Sz. 77 (1923)
Anna-Maria Palii (soprano)
Bavarian Radio Chorus/Howard Arman
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Cristian Măcelaru
rec. live, 8-10 March 2017, Gasteig Philharmonic Hall, Munich (Bartók); 2021/22, BR Studios
BR Klassik 900206 [69]

John France provides a detailed discussion of the works on this CD and the recording’s raison d’être in his review. I refer you to that review for this information. While 1923 was indeed the composition year of the pieces here and the 1920s were a decade of some wild music, I would not describe most of the pieces here as “wild.” All the same, there is much on this disc to stimulate the listener. The only work with which I was familiar is Bartók’s Dance Suite, the remainder of the programme being new to me.

Ernst Toch’s Dance Suite for chamber ensemble is generally in a neo-classical vein, reminding me at times of Hindemith’s Kammermusik but with Toch’s personal voice. While the music possesses lightness and liveliness, it also has a dark undertow and can be quite melancholy. Its five movements consist of three dances separated by two intermezzi. The suite contains virtuosic writing for the winds and strings and a more prominent part for the double bass than one might expect. Its themes are memorable, and Toch’s concluding section, “Dance of Awakening” includes a reference to Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll (2:20-3:00) and a Richard Straussian waltz passage that is reminiscent of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite (5:25-6:00, 7:00-8:20). For listeners who know Toch primarily for his Geographical Fugue for speaking chorus, the Dance Suite shows a different and equally appealing side of the composer.

I found it difficult to assess Kurt Weill’s Frauentanz without access to the texts of the songs. BR Klassik has done purchasers of the CD a disservice by not including any texts either in German or English for this work and also for Ernst Krenek’s choruses. This might not be a problem for listeners who know German, whether native or not, but is a major drawback for the rest of us. As with Toch’s suite, Weill’s dances are written for chamber forces with the addition of the soprano soloist and the ensemble is that of a wind quintet with the viola replacing the oboe in the standard instrumentation. In general Weill’s piece is more dissonant and bittersweet than Toch’s and is quite different from his Kleine Dreigroschenmusik for winds that Weill extracted from The Threepenny Opera. However, the work is well-crafted for the voice and ensemble and they give it their all in this performance.

Krenek’s Three Mixed Choruses for a cappella choir employ texts of poems by Matthias Claudius in a contemporary setting. While not atonal, they are rather free in their use of harmony in the manner of Frank Martin’s music. The first two of the choruses, on the human being and consolation, respectively, are more mystical than the third one. That last one, depicting the Romans, is much more animated and folkish. If only I knew exactly what they are singing! The Bavarian Radio Chorus obviously does and they perform the pieces to the manner born.

The disc concludes with the work that one could best describe as “uninhibited” among those on the rest of the programme. Bartók’s Dance Suite has received far greater attention than the other pieces here and there are many recordings of it in the catalogue. It is one of his most colourful orchestral works and owes something to his earlier ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, in its orchestration and dance rhythms. The Dance Suite receives a terrific performance, one that compares well with others I have heard. Cristian Măcelaru and the Bavarian Radio Symphony are truly in their element, capturing both the vitality and the mystery of the dances. My go-to recording has been Georg Solti’s with the Chicago Symphony (Decca) and his is still very exciting, but less characterful than Măcelaru who with generally broader tempos is able to dig deeper into the score. Pierre Boulez also with Chicago (DG) likewise adopts slower tempos, but is comparatively bland and metronomic.

The recording that BR provides for Măcelaru is state-of-the art, with the percussion and brass sounding forth impressively. This Dance Suite caps a disc that in its way is a good example of Germanic and Hungarian music of 1920s, but does not actually live up to its sobriquet of “the wild sound.”

Leslie Wright

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Previous review: John France (February 2023)