20th Century Concerto Grosso
Now approaching his 90th year, Sir Neville Marriner is still adding new material to his vast discography in collaboration with the ensemble he formed in 1958. The young firebrand has long since mellowed – he is instantly recognisable in the session photograph on page 18 of the substantial multilingual booklet, less so on page 43. Fortunately the team’s music-making, as captured in a classic ASMF venue, St John’s Smith Square, has lost none of the old finish. The horn players who occasionally cut through the accompanying string orchestra texture of the Schulhoff are uncredited, presumably band regulars. The flute, violin and cello soloists are members of the Vienna Philharmonic. Only the scores themselves may disappoint a little as diverting rather than revelatory examples of the post-First World War reaction against the grand, soloistic traditions of the Romantic concerto. None of them can hold a candle to, say, Ernest Bloch’s Concerto grosso No 1.
Least neglected is the Concerto doppio (1927) from a composer often shoehorned into Holocaust-themed collections, a restless eclectic who acquired Soviet citizenship too late and died in captivity in 1942 in the Bavarian fortress camp of Wülzburg. There are previous recordings on the Supraphon, Koch Schwann, Dabringhaus und Grimm, Decca, Gramola and Arco Diva labels, to name but six; the sophisticated transparency of this new account is its own justification. If you don’t know the music, think modally adjusted, Frenchified, jazz-inflected Hindemith!
Krenek’s Concertino (1924), though occasionally heard in concert (there is a harpsichord option), is apparently new to disc. It finds the composer’s expressionist tendencies muted by the neo-classicism then in vogue, a stylistic dalliance he would later attribute to an (aberrant) infatuation with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Krenek began work on his biggest hit, the opera Jonny spielt auf, in 1925.
Vincent d’Indy, the anti-Semitic, anti-cosmopolitan cuckoo in this nest, wrote his backward-looking Concert (1926) towards the end of his life. The first movement put me in mind of those vintage 78s of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. The elegant, evocative, slightly faded romanticism of the slow movement makes a rather different appeal, unmistakably French, not conspicuously neo-classical.
I should mention the copious booklet-notes, partly penned by the pianist Maria Prinz, whose project this is. You may or may not respond to everything in the programme but she and her associates are convincing advocates throughout. The sure-footed recording team is headed by Andrew Keener.