GMCD 7261 – Stravinski – von Einem – Engel

Christos Kanettis – Violin, Alfons Kontarsky – Piano

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American Record Guide November/December 2003

Violinist Samuel Dushkin was responsible for several of Stravinsky’s transcriptions of his orchestral ballet suites for violin and piano. I have never found them very satisfactory in this form, since they seem a bit arbitrary when reduced this way, but the music of The Fairys Kiss is beautiful any way you cut it. Kanettis and Kantarsky play it with sensitivity and care.

But let’s talk about the original numbers on this substantial program. Paul Engel (b 1949) and Gottfried von Einem (1918-96) would not seem to follow, but in fact this is one of the most effective stylistically related programs I have encountered. Engel is, like Stravinsky, deeply involved with the classical style, though he does tend to spread it out into something vaguely recalling minimalist repetitions. His violin-piano Sonogramme I and his big 26-minute Trio, subtitled Calliope’s Descent from Olympus, both combine classical styles with modern harmonies, not unlike Stravinsky. Von Einem’s little Sonata, Opus 11 (1949) has a fresh-sounding approach to the then ongoing Stravinsky idiom, relating it to dance rhythms and ending with a tango. He, like Stravinsky, is irrepressible.

The pieces relate to each other remarkably well and are performed with fine rhythmic style and a well-controlled tonal palette. This is an unexpectedly fine disc-unexpected because it isn’t, on the face of it, a unified program. Recommended, particularly to Stravinsky-lovers, who are, I hope, legion.

International Record Review

The name that was unfamiliar to me was Paul Engel’s. Born in the Austrian Tyrol in 1949, Engel studied composition, conducting and piano at the Munich Hochschule für Musik, where he later joined the faculty. Since 1987 he has been a ‘freelance’ composer of operas, orchestral works and (especially) chamber music.

Eclectic in style, Sonogramm I and Calliope’s Descent from Olympus remind me of the later work of American composer George Rochberg. Without turning to pastiche, Engel and Rochberg frequently introduce a late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century aesthetic into their music; Beethoven seems to be a focus for both composers. Atonality, cluster chords, irregular rhythms and so on comfortably co-exist with tonality and Classical modes of expression. In Calliope’s Descent, Engel goes so far as to draw upon mythology (an invented marriage between Zeus and the muse of Epic Poetry) to gently warn mortals about ‘the hectic pace of modern life’. I found these works to be skilfully written and of more than average artistic interest and appeal.

Gottfried von Einem (1918-96) is largely remembered for his operas, including Dantons Tod. His eclecticism earned him the critical brickbat ‘nicht von Einem, sondern von Vielen’ (‘not by one man but by many’). In the Violin Sonata, composed in 1949, annotator Marc Rochester suggests that von Einem’s allusions to jazz and popular music (including Harry Warren’s Jeepers Creepers) were a final kick at the Nazis and their label of ‘degenerate’ music. In both length (barely nine minutes) and ambitions, this is more a sonatina, but it is pleasant enough – a minted toothpick rather than a stately tree.

Little needs to be said about the Stravinsky, a familiar revision of an orchestral ballet score (Le baiser de la fée), in turn adapted from music (mostly for piano) by Tchaikovsky. In other words, more eclecticism! Christos Kanettis and Alfons Kontarsky are more acerbic than Cho-Liang Lin and André-Michel Schub and ltzhak Perlman and Bruno Canino, but that’s quite all right, given the music’s incipient sweetness. (Throughout this CD the performers favour fibre over sugar, but only the sweet- toothed will complain.)

The studio-based engineering is more than satisfactory, as are the booklet notes, numerous typos notwithstanding.
Raymond S. Tuttle