20thC foxtrots v5 Grand Piano GP922

20th Century Foxtrots – Vol 5 (Switzerland)
Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)
rec. 2022, SRF Radiostudio Brunnenhofstrasse, Zurich
Grand Piano GP922 [67]

This is the fifth of Gottlieb Wallisch’s discs exploring the early jazz world through the eyes of composers across the world: Austria and Czechia (GP813), Germany (GP814), Central and Eastern Europe (GP854), France and Belgium (GP855) and now Switzerland. What was originally planned as one disc has expanded due to the sheer amount of material available, if one is willing to hunt, and Wallisch is certainly willing. A couple of the works here exist only in manuscript and obscure is too small a description for pretty much anything on this generous CD. While several of these composers also performed in dance bands – violinist Richard Flury and pianists Albert Moeschinger and Julien-François Zbinden for example and indeed the first two are shown on location in booklet photos – what is remarkable is that these are not generally light music composers; many of these composers made their name in orchestral and operatic works and amongst their teachers are Jacques Ibert, Volkmar Andreae, Ludwig Thuille, Paul Graener, Josef Rheinberger, Ernst Bloch, Paul Dukas and many more.

There is a huge mix of styles. On the lighter side of things are José Berr’s march-like Maria Foxtrot and One-step über 2 Schweizermelodien, a cakewalk like one-step which was a dance based on the Turkey Trot, a short-lived forerunner of the foxtrot. So too, the energetic Dolderilla Foxtrot, one of three pieces in a multi-composer collection written for a grand Spanisches Bluemenspiel – Spanish flower ball – at the Dolder Hotel in Zurich. This was written by Walter Lang, a pupil of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze who is himself represented by his limping Le Fox-Trot angoissé – the anguished foxtrot – in which the dancer is trying to negotiate the steps of this new-fangled dance, ably depicted by the wrong-footing rhythmic changes. I was rather surprised that Honegger’s contributions were so light-hearted but they were written for films rather than the concert platform; the Tango de Charlotte comes from the Madrid segment of a film adaption of Marthe Richard’s imaginative autobiographical account of her life as a spy Marthe Richard au Service de a France and if his three extracts from the story of a busy newspaper in Le Journal Tombe à 5 Heures, blues, Villa Rabaud and tango give us little indication of the storyline they are nonetheless attractive, especially the flowing French waltz Villa Rabaud. The booklet describes Paul Burkhard’s Slow-Fox as a debonair little piece with a springtime promenade-like feel which indeed it is. What is does not mention is the melody’s very close similarity to Ain’t misbehavin’ written in the previous year; I expected the booklet to suggest that this was a deliberate homage as the first few bars are pretty much a match, close enough for a lawsuit in our more litigious times.

The two foxtrots of Richard Flury, a composer currently being revived by Toccata Classics, are huge fun – and that’s even without knowing that halottria is an old German word for fun – and, especially in the first, take us back to the world of Debussy’s minstrels; I couldn’t help thinking of the Sheik of Araby at times as well. We hear these courtesy of the composer’s son Urs Joseph Flury who arranged the Tango of the Creole with the Knight from his father’s ballet the old chest in which puppets come to life; some of the exotic chromaticism reminds me of Rimsky-Korsakov’s song of India from his opera Sadko. Urs Joseph also provides a foxtrot of his own, a piano arrangement of the eighth piece from his Promenaden-Suite originally for violin and piano. It is a wonderful recital closer, part foxtrot, part black-and-white rag and part Keystone Kops. Mention must be made of the two pieces by Marguerite Roesgen-Champion who was another of Dalcroze’s pupils as well as of Ernst Bloch. Jimmy Blue is another easy-going promenade that, like its more energetic companion Daisy sounds like an amalgam of George Gershwin and Billy Mayerl. The richness of the texture in her tango brings the later writing of Isaac Albéniz to mind.

Some works here err more towards what might be deemed the serious side of things – the neoclassical Tanzstücke of Conrad Beck for instance, especially the lyrical slow waltz that is Boston. His Foxtrot is more about exploring the rhythmic and melodic ideas of the dance but in his own harmonic style, as does Peter Mieg in the two extracts from his ballet La Fête de la ligne. The two works by Albert Moeschinger that open the disc are on the line between serious and light; his Cine Foxtrott-Fantasie was written in homage to American actress Tallulah Bankhead – the manuscript says cine but it was printed as eine, possibly a typo considering the inspiration. It is full of piano wizardry while striking a harmonic balance between the experimental composer he was to become and his time in the cafes of Switzerland. His Farewell blues is evocative of a hundred smoky bars. Roger-Ducasse pupil André-François Marescotti gives us four short sketches that include Nègre au clair de lune, wistful but interrupted by sudden fast dance steps, the delicate little miniature Bluette which has gentle hints of Ravel and Blue Girls which is a lilting Mayerl-like piece. René Gerber’s slow fox is a deliciously lyrical piece that hints at Poulenc in its nonchalance, all the more for its stark contrast with the Jazz-Sonatine by Julien-François Zbinden; the first movement blues opens with an atmospheric bell-like texture slowly giving way to a lugubrious blue’s melody that is unconcerned with the improvisatory decoration that constantly tries to take over, always returning to its humble simplicity. In the second movement improvisation the booklet notes that the model of Bach’s preludes can be discerned in the watermark which I confess I cannot hear, but it is an entertaining mix of jazz influences from Gershwin onwards.

Gottlieb Wallisch is an outstanding interpreter of this music, colourful and dashing, just the right qualities for this often larger than life music. I knew none of this music and indeed only a handful of the composers, so it has been a joy to get to know them through Wallisch’s spirited performances. I must give an ear to the previous albums in this series.

Rob Challinor

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Albert Moeschinger (1897-1985)
Tallula, Eine Foxtrott-Fantasie (1930s)
Farewell Blues (1930s)
José Berr (1874-1947)
Maria, Foxtrot (1924)
One-step über 2 Schweizermelodien ‘der Schweizerknabe – Thurgauerlied’ (1926)
Walter Lang (1896-1966)
Olé, Olé! Sueños de España: 3 Preisgekrönte Tänze No 2 Dolderilla Foxtrot (1928)
Conrad Beck (1901-1989)
2 Tanzstücke (1928)
André-François Marescotti (1902-1995)
Nègre au clair de lune No 3 from Esquisses, first series (1924)
Virtuose de rue No 1 from Esquisses, second series (1925)
Bluette No 2 from Esquisses, second series (1925)
Blue Girls No 1 from Croquis, first series (1941)
Richard Flury (1896-1967)
Halottria-Fox-Trot (No.1) (1929)
Fox-Trot (No 2) (1929)
Die Alte Truhe (1945) (arr, U.J.Flury, 2020)
Paul Burkhard (1911-1977)
Slow-Fox (1930)
Tango for piano (1934)
Peter Mieg (1906-1990)
La Fête de la ligne (1935)
Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950)
Le Fox-Trot angoissé No 3 from 3 Entrées Dansantes (c.1924)
Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
Marthe Richard au Service de a France H.110 (1937)
Le Journal Tombe à 5 Heures H.156 (1942) version for piano
Marguerite Roesgen-Champion (1894-1976)
4 Petites Pièces Nos 1 and 2 (1946)
Tango (1937)
René Gerber (1908-2006)
Slow-Fox No 1 from 6 Pièces Book 4 (1945-55)
Julien-François Zbinden (1917-2021)
Jazz-Sonatine Op 11 (1949-50)
Urs Joseph Flury (b. 1941)
Foxtrot No 8 from Promenaden-Suite (1985-87) version for piano