Composers come in from the cold thanks to some warm Aussie advocacy
The Nazi regime’s cultural shaming is surely one of the darkest periods in European history. Jew, jazz-composer, serialist: each was a reasonable enough excuse to label them Entartete Musik (degenerate music) during the Third Reich. Two composers were smart (and lucky) to flee: the Jew Hans Gál, and the Czech-born Austrian composer of Jonny Spielt Auf fame, Ernst Krenek. Violist Roger Benedict and pianist Timothy Young have worked brilliantly together to resurrect the music of this pair of ‘degenerates’. And the result is an intriguing and beguiling album that blends soulful, troubled music with that of truly optimistic, romantic spirit.
Roger Benedict’s viola playing is warm and often luxurious. Timothy Young is clear and secure during the piano’s supporting moments, bold and emotive when playing the soloist. The opening Sonata for Viola and Piano by Hans Gál reveals the composer’s nostalgic sensibility. Krenek’s language is more adventurous and complicated. His Sonata for Viola and Piano opens coldly, evoking the strange, disjunct spirit reminiscent of Hindemith. The whole works explores a frosty sort of Weimar period counterpoint.
A breezy impromptu by Gál is a light reprieve before channelling more Hindemith in Krenek’s Solo Viola Sonata. Here, Benedict’s viola sounds like a lone, solitary spirit. In facts, the disc’s title would be an apt name for this work alone. The four movements are concise and compact, yet highly expressive and far-reaching in character. Gál’s suite for Viola and Piano is yet another change: rippling piano chords and warm melodies in the viola swim in the non-romantic daydream of the first movement. A fiery march with freer, more relaxed episodes forms the second movement, with a graceful minuet for the third. A fun, playing burla makes for a carefree finale.