SCHULHOFF: Piano Sonata No. 3. Ironien.* 10 Klavierstücke. Musik für Klavier. 11 Inventionen / Monica Gutman, *Erika Le Roux, pno / Wergo 7385-2
Over the last 18 or so years, the wonderful piano music of Erwin Schulhoff has become standard fare on recordings, at least. Since I am disabled and thus unable to get out of the house as I was once able to, I have no idea how his music is faring in live concerts, but if it’s anywhere close to his presentation on silver discs I’d be very happy. Of course, it clearly does not appeal to the atonal-squeamish; he was very much a modern composer of his day, used a great deal of extended harmonies, bitonal or atonal chords, and a melodic line that followed the harmonic progress of his music rather than leading it. As far as I’m concerned, his only real negative is that he was an ardent Communist who even went so far as to set Marx’s Communist Manifesto to music, but he was such a great composer that I can simply dismiss that one piece and admire all the rest.
Of course, his great introduction to the classical world came from Kathryn Stott’s now-legendary album of his jazz-and-ragtime-influenced piano pieces for the Bis label. On this CD, only the 11 Inventions (which were also on Stott’s CD) have any grounding in the popular music of the 1920s, and in fact all have been recorded before.
The recital presented here is performed by Monica Gutman, a Romanian pianist who studied in Germany at the Detmold Musikhochschule as well as in England with the superb, and often underrated, Louis Kentner. Her playing here has some muscle when needed, but largely relies on a singing legato. For those who feel that Schulhoff needs a singing legato in order to make his music palatable, this will then be a first choice, but I give the edge to Margarete Babinsky in the Piano Sonata No. 3 and to Stott in the Ironien and the 11 Inventions.
The problem, to my ears, is that Gutman flattens out the dynamics too much and emphasizes Schulhoff’s rhythms too little. The result is a sort of cross between Schulhoff and Debussy that never really existed.
So why am I reviewing this CD? As an object-lesson for all of you Historically Informed Performance nuts out there. This is how “traditions in performance” get started. One day, a performer you’ve never heard of gives a recital or makes a recording of music that is new to you. You like the music but, having no other frame of reference (yes, I know, in this case we DO have frames of reference; I’m just giving you a hypothetical example), laud it as a “classic” or a “definitive” performance when it is nothing of the kind. Ironically, you HIP people get away with a lot of murder of poor, innocent, good music because no one alive today could possibly have heard a performance from the 18th or 19th centuries, nor even from the early 20th, so you make up your own “traditions” based on “research” which consists of written descriptions that you cannot or do not interpret correctly. The you go about ruining the sound of music with your pathetic, whiny, unnatural-sounding Straight Tone string and wind sections that, if the composers had heard them, they would boil you in oil and then feed your remains to scavengers.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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