In Honor of Rudolf Kolisch (1896-1978) is Music & Arts' six-disc tribute to a key figure in twentieth century music whose name is invoked in a number of historic contexts, yet whose actual recorded work remains almost unknown. Rudolf Kolisch was the leader of the Kolisch String Quartet, the "house band" at Arnold Schoenberg's ISCM conferences in the 1920s and a group that formed the first line of defense in the avant-garde musical movements in Europe before the rise of Nazi Germany. As the Kolisch also recorded a fair amount of standard quartet literature, this set is limited mainly to this and Kolisch's other groups' recordings of the Second Vienna School and Bartók, although the Kolisch Quartet recording of the Schubert Octet in F, performed with additional guest players, from the Library of Congress in 1940 is included as a bonus.
The program opens with an extraordinary and audacious series of private recordings, made on a United Artists soundstage in Hollywood under the aegis of Alfred Newman, of all four of Schoenberg's string quartets dating from late 1936 and early 1937. The Fourth Quartet hadn't even premiered yet -- this would occur the day after recording, on January 8, 1937, at UCLA.
From this same session are included some of Schoenberg's spoken comments, in which he offers thanks to Newman and United Artists, and even addresses the "friends" of his music that belong to the future, presumably not yet born. These recordings have been issued a number of times, despite their "p-r-r-rivate" (pace Schoenberg) provenance, and unfortunately little can be done to rescue them from their noisy and somewhat dim audio perspective.
They have never been dealt with, in a sonic sense, with more proficiency than here. From an interpretive standpoint, this Kolisch performance of the String Quartet No. 1 in D minor remains one of the best made, simply because the group has a thorough understanding of the Viennese milieu in which the quartet was conceived and does not try to make it sound more "modern" than it is.From there we jump ahead to 1950 and the Pro Arte Quartet of the University of Wisconsin, a pre-existing group that Kolisch took over in 1945 and retrofitted for performances of contemporary quartet literature. We get a second shot at the Third Schoenberg quartet with this group, and the performance is tighter and even more intense than that with the Kolisch Quartet, not to mention heard in excellent mono sound taken from a Dial LP. For some reason the sonic perspective is a little more cramped in Berg's Lyric Suite and some of the other Dials, but it is still astonishing to realize that in hearing the Berg you are listening to a performance led by the same person who premiered this now standard work at a 1927 ISCM Festival. The tempi observed here are faster than in most performances -- indeed, the pace of the Allegro misterioso is downright dizzying. The three discs that follow are an embarrassment of riches: Kolisch heard in a rare context as soloist, playing the Schoenberg concerto at the University of Wisconsin, the Bartók Sonata for solo violin, and Schoenberg's Fantasy, Op. 47, with his colleague Gunnar Johansen. With the Pro Arte Quartet, further Dial recordings are heard -- the Webern Opp. 5 and 9, Schoenberg's early String Quartet in D of 1897, and Bartók's Fifth QuartetApart from the purely historical value of the recordings, and their highly variable sound quality, what is Kolisch like? In his time, all of this music was unfamiliar, and in the twenty-first century nearly all of it is familiar -- in a sense some of it has reached a point of perfection that approaches fossilization.
Kolisch certainly isn't looking to make his Schoenberg or Bartók warm and cozy, and he doesn't have a problem dealing with it as "difficult" music; after hearing his Bartók Sonata for solo violin, some might wonder if Kolisch is not making it a bit more difficult than it really is. Nevertheless, Kolisch was an acknowledged pioneer of the avant-garde, greatly admired by the composers he championed, and as a collection, Music & Arts' In Honor of Rudolf Kolisch (1896-1978) is certainly essential in understanding the "difficult" music of the twentieth century in its own historical context. That Kolisch's 50- and 60-year-old recordings still continue to challenge us makes you wonder if, in this era of pristine performances of these pieces, do we have really have the right idea about them?
|String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7||Rudolf Kolisch||43:16|
|String Quartet No. 2 for soprano & string quartet in F sharp minor, Op. 10|
|1. Mässig||Rudolf Kolisch||6:22|
|2. Sehr rasch||Rudolf Kolisch||6:11|
|3. Litanei (Stefan George) Langsam||Rudolf Kolisch||5:24|
|4. Entrueckung (Stefan George) Sehr langsam||Rudolf Kolisch||10:42|
|Schoenberg: Spoken Comment [after performance of String Quartet No.2 by Kolisch Quartet & Clemence||Rudolf Kolisch||0:52|