Monday 24 November 2014

Excellent performances from violinist Zina Schiff and pianist Cameron Grant of works by Eric Zeisl, Aaron Copland, Ernest Bloch and Robert Dauber on a new release from MSR Records

Violinist Zina Schiff and pianist Cameron Grant are two distinguished musicians that have made a number of highly regarded recordings together for MSR Records. Now from that duo comes a new release on MSR Records of works by Jewish composers, Aaron Copland, Eric Zeisl, Ernest Bloch and Robert Dauber.

MS 1493
Eric Zeisl (1905-1959) was born in Vienna and studied at the Vienna State Academy from the age of fourteen. It was only two years later that a set of songs by him were published.  Despite his promise as one of Austria's brightest young talents, he was forced in 1938 to flee to Paris before travelling on the USA. Zeisl achieved recognition in his adopted land but sadly in 1959, at the age of 53, he suffered a heart attack and died.

Apart from his work on a number of well-known films his compositions include a piano concerto, cello concerto (for Gregor Piatigorsky), four ballets, numerous choral and chamber works, and half of an unfinished opera written shortly before his death.

The first work on this new disc by Eric Zeisl is Menuchim’s Song (1939). A short piece, it has an impassioned opening for the violin over a firm piano accompaniment before the theme is varied with a rather Jewish feel, finely played by Zina Schiff and Cameron Grant. A really lovely piece.

Aaron Copland’s (1900-1990) was working on a score for a film called The North Star when he found time to write his Violin Sonata (1942-43).

The Andante semplice has a deliberate, repeated piano motif that is varied by the violin as these two players slowly take the theme forward through variants, speeding and developing with some phenomenally fine playing revealing some lovely little Coplandesque motifs. The piano slowly picks out a theme in the lovely Lento soon joined by the violin with Schiff and Grant finding a natural flow and revealing all of Copland’s exquisite creation. These players bring a fine sense of rhythm and phrasing to Copland’s tricky Allegretto giusto, Schiff providing some lovely timbres and exquisite shaped phrasing. Both players find much joy in this music with some terrific ensemble before the tension is released for the quiet coda where Schiff brings some lovely violin textures.

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) wrote Abodah (1928) after hearing the young Yehudi Menuhin play in San Francisco. Based on a Yom Kippur melody it opens with a piano passage before the violin joins, with Schiff providing a lovely violin tone in this fine melody full of Jewish inflections to which these artists bring much fine sensibility.

The main work by Eric Zeisl on this disc is his Violin Sonata ‘Brandeis’ (1949-50), dedicated to the composer Alexander Tansman.

A decisive piano opening takes the listener’s attention in the Grave/allegretto before the violin enters weaving around the opening motif before taking up a dialogue with the piano. Soon the music takes off in a rhythmic theme, having something of the nature of a diabolical dance. The music slows in a languid section that slowly moves ahead with a degree of passion. A spiky staccato theme arrives leading to incisive repeated violin and piano phrases that slowly open out to violin flourishes. The piano reintroduces a rhythmic theme to take the music forward before slowing to a free flowing section. The music then picks up again before an incisive coda.

With the Andante religioso the piano introduces a beautiful slow, melancholy Jewish melody over which the violin flows. Schiff brings some lovely passionate phrases, a lovely rise and fall, brilliantly accompanied by Grant. These two really have the measure of this music.

The Rondo opens with a lively theme for the piano to which the violin joins in this lively, rhythmic movement. Again, the music is full of Jewish inflections. There is a lovely trio section and some tremendous incisive phrases as the music moves inexorably forward to its coda. There is some breathtaking playing in this fine performance.

The German composer Robert Dauber (1922-1945) is represented by his only surviving work, his Serenata (1942). He died in Dachau concentration camp at the age of just twenty three.

His Serenata has an unexpectedly light feel given the circumstances under which the composer must have been living. It is full of attractive rhythms and received some exquisite playing from both these artists with silken piano chords and a lovely violin tone.

All the performances on this disc are excellent. Zina Schiff and Cameron Grant are nicely recorded with a lovely sense of space in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. There are informative booklet notes.

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