Hans Winterberg’s Strange But Fascinating Music

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WINTERBERG: CHAMBER MUSIC, Vol. 1 / WINTERBERG: Suite for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon & Harpsichord. Suite in Bb for Clarinet & Piano. Sonata for Cello & Piano. Wind Quintet. Suite for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon & Piano / Arizona Wind Quintet with Theodor Buchholz, cel; Rex Woods, hpsd/pno; Tannis Gibson, Alexander Tentser, pno / Toccata Classics 0491

From the inlay on this CD:

The case of the composer Hans Winterberg (1901-91) is a strange one. A survivor of the Terezin concentration camp, where he had been interned as a Czech Jew, after the war he settled in Munich as a German citizen, and his music enjoyed a number of broadcasts—but after his death, his estate disappeared into the vaults of the Sudeten German Music Institute, where it was placed under embargo, emerging only in 2015. This first album of his music reveals an unusual and individual voice, an idiosyncratic blend of Stravinsky, Janáček and Hindemith, with touches of Poulenc, often expressed with brittle humour and rhythmic verve.

I also heard elements of ragtime in his rhythms and a bit of Françaix in his handling of chamber ensembles, but for the most part Winterberg was clearly his own man. The opening Suite for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon & Harpsichord, which also closes out this CD in the alternate version using a piano, is very much a strange piece. It has a tonal bias, occasionally landing in a definite key, but for the most part strays from tonality with what sounds like Middle Eastern harmonies.

By contrast, the suite for clarinet and piano has an almost Twilight Zone-like feeling about it, the music constantly swirling around and never touching a tonal center, thought it does flirt with one. This, the earliest piece on the CD, dates from 1944. The second movement in this also has a sort of Middle Eastern or Eastern European sound about it. As one moves into the cello sonata (1951), one starts to realize that, in a way, Winterberg’s music almost moves sideways rather than in a linear fashion.

As mentioned earlier, the CD closes out with the piano version of the opening suite. This is played at a slightly slower tempo, and the piano gives the suite a different sound texture, making the music sound “rounder” and less rhythmically acute.

This is very fine and interesting music. If I seem to have shortchanged these works by not giving more of a technical description of the music, it is not because of a lack of enthusiasm, but rather because the music is so good that it speaks for itself.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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