Elegy and Capriccio.
Verses for Viola and Piano
Sebastian Foron (vc);
Zdeněk Mácal, cond;
Matti Raekallio (pn)
TOCCATA 0083 (SACD: 71:31)
I am amazed that Karel Reiner’s most interesting music has lain unplayed for so many years. His early compositions show the influence of teachers and colleagues such as Alois Hába, Josef Suk, Emil František Burian, and Erwin Schulhoff. As a concert pianist, he worked with Emil František Burian’s theater from 1934 to 1938 when he was part of the Czech artistic avant-garde. When the Nazis took over Prague, Jews including Reiner lost their ability to work. Eventually, he was interned and transported from one concentration camp to another. He was the only classical composer to survive Theresienstadt. While he was there he composed incidental music for a play entitled
that has been lost. The list of composers who were murdered after internment in that camp includes Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, and Ilse Weber. After the war Reiner again lived in Prague and he joined the Communist Party. Its officials were unhappy with his work, however. They accused him of “Formalism” and they took him and his music out of the spotlight. The Party used the term “Formalism” to characterize music that was too individualistic. They were right about one thing, Reiner’s music is very much his own and after a short acquaintance with it you can recognize his constantly developing style. The opening notes of Reiner’s Cello Concerto, written between 1941 and 1943, will definitely wake the audience from any kind of reverie they may have been enjoying. Reiner must have been a supreme optimist to write a work requiring large forces at that time. He was a master orchestrator, and this concerto shows his strengths. The music provides a thoroughgoing workout for the cellist, too. There are many pages in which the soloist has no rest, but that does not seem to be a problem for Sebastian Foron. He plays with strength, secure intonation, and tonal beauty. Conductor Zdeněk Mácal, familiar to many from his work as music director of the New Jersey Symphony from 1993 to 2002, gives a stellar performance, bringing out the various instruments in this complex piece and keeping the music translucent.
The other pieces on this super audio compact disc are for piano and cello. Finnish-born pianist Matti Raekallio accompanies Foron in Reiner’s
Elegy and Capriccio
from 1960, and
Verses for Viola and Piano
from 1975. In the sonata, Reiner uses the entire range of the cello beginning with the lowest note, the open C-string. He doesn’t shy away from the highest possible notes that the cellist can play with reasonable tonal quality, either. The funeral march in the second movement is the only piece that would seem to directly pertain to Reiner’s Holocaust experiences, and as such it is heartbreaking to hear when contemplating its meaning. Music may well be the best way to express thoughts that defy language. Reiner likes sharp contrasts in his music and he ends the sonata with a lively
Allegro con Brio. Elegy
follow the tradition of romanticism and are rather different from the other works on this disc. As such, they provide a pleasant bit of respite from the hard biting tension of the earlier and later works.
is a calming work while
gives both pianist and cellist chances to show off their virtuosity.
for Viola and Piano, which form the disc’s finale, are played here on the cello and piano as originally written, with no transpositions except for the last chord which Foron plays an octave lower. This is an important recording because the concerto, in particular, should be much more widely heard. Toccata has recorded Reiner’s music in well-balanced, clear sound, and I think this disc is a true gem.