FRID: Concerto for Piano, Viola & Strings.* Symphony No. 3 for String Orchestra & Timpani. 2 Inventions for String Orchestra / *Isabelle van Keulen, vla; *Oliver Triendl, pno; Georgian Chamber Orch. Ingolstadt; Ruben Gazarian, cond / Capriccio C5353
In this new CD, conductor Ruben Gazarian conducts the still-rare instrumental music of Grigory Frid (1915-2012), best known for his 1968-69 opera The Diary of Anne Frank. His music has been likened to that of Shostakovich, but to my ears it is actually closer to that of Ligeti or even Weinberg, being moodier and having much more unusual chord positions which makes the harmony more fluid. From the slow, mysterious opening of the Concerto for Piano, Viola and Strings (1981), it is evident that Frid used the instruments—including the solo violist—to create a dark mood rather than projecting bright, flashy sonorities as Shostakovich did with regularity. Moreover, the strings, playing softly in the background, are scored in close seconds or perhaps even closer than that, sustaining long, unusual chords as a backdrop to the soloist. The piano plays sparse single notes, mostly in the bass line, as a sort of sad commentary on the proceedings. Both soloists play with tremendous sensitivity—they almost have to, in music like this—even in the quicker second movement. “Quicker,” however, is a relative term. The tempo is doubled from the first, but the dark mood continues unabated and, in fact, the movements are linked. Here the pianist switches from single notes to an ostinato rhythm, playing repeated chords with occasional interjections of quarter-note triplets against the meandering viola line. The celli in the orchestra now play pizzicato and the other strings, now scored a bit more conventionally harmonically, play louder and often more aggressive phrases as the tempo increases more and more. The emotion ramps up almost to the breaking point around 4:40 but then falls back at 5:07 to a slow interlude, again with close seconds in the strings as the soloists continue their meandering in the foreground.
I say “meandering” only because the music is not conventionally developed, any more than Weinberg’s was. Despite the occasional feeling that the soloists are somehow lost in their own world, Frid actually does create a musical progression, just a very slow-moving one. The long (17:19) “Sostenuto” last movement is by far the deepest and most complex, with an actual melody suddenly emerging from the viola line around the four-minute mark as the pianist continues to ruminate in the background with slow single notes and occasional chords. By the midway mar, the music has risen to an almost screaming climax with the strings and soloists hammering away on ostinato figures. But of course it falls back again, this time to even sadder laments. Eventually, the viola plays repeated sustained notes with the strings as the music fades into oblivion.
By contrast, the Third Symphony begins with energetic if somewhat menacing figures played by the strings with sharp timpani whacks in the background. In this work Frid used his forces in a more rhythmic manner, creating repeated syncopations which he moves through various figures played by the orchestra. His development also seems to be more rhythmic than thematic, with the short motifs bounding around as the movement goes on. As in the case of the concerto, the second movement follows without a break, the mood and structure very similar here to the concerto except without soloists. Yet I hasten to point out that, although Frid used similar devices, he did not repeat the same patterns over and over, but rather varied them in the musical progression. A good example: the last movement, an “Allegro energico,” uses rhythmic motifs similar to those in the Concerto but distributes the beats and accents in an entirely different manner. These are interesting pieces.
The 2 Inventions for String Orchestra (1962, originally for piano) are much more tonal works, the first in C# minor and the second in F major, which bear a similarity to Samuel Barber’s works, except that the slow-moving cello line in the first is more continuously contrapuntal than Barber. The first, with its elegiac mood, might be viewed as his “Adagio for Strings” while the second, with its dramatic opening and fast-moving perpetuum mobile rhythm, is actually more similar to Bartók.
This is quite an interesting CD and a real ear-opener for me!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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