Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Franz Reizenstein: Piano Sonata

Franz Reizenstein is an honorary English composer –and perhaps one of that large band of unjustly neglected masters. I did a little straw poll amongst a few of my musical friends. None of them hard heard his name – never mind any of his music. Yet I am prepared to stick my head above the parapet and state that the Piano Sonata in B is one of the finest essays of this form in the literature. The work was composed in 1944 and was dedicated to William Walton. It is a considerable piece that lasts for nearly half an hour and explores a wide range of emotion and ‘imagination.’ Of course, contemporary reviewers were a little mixed in their reviews. On the one hand there was a recognition of inspiration and ‘more-than-competence’ in the technical layout of the music. Yet there was a direct criticism of the composer’s use of “unassimilated styles” throughout this three movement work. Now, it is easy to find references or perhaps even nods to a range of composers – Hindemith for one and perhaps Alan Rawsthorne Interestingly Reizenstein studied with Vaughan Williams’s but there appears to be virtually no influence from that direction.
Listening to this work some sixty-odd years after its publication lends a fine opportunity to put aside any suggestion of cribbing, of lack of originality or confusion of styles. Surely this work can only be seen as the masterpiece that it surely is – from the technical as well as the aesthetic point of view. Yet I doubt that it will ever become popular in the recitals: I guess the reason why, is that it more of a cerebral work than one of sheer virtuosic display. However, there is nothing in this work that should deter the listener: it is written in a language that is both appealing and satisfying.
The Piano Sonata can be heard on Lyrita REAM2105


Mathias Richter said...

Thank you for reminding us of this neglected composer! I suppose some people remember the Concerto Popolare without knowing that it has been concocted by Reizenstein. It is featured in this year’s Proms by the way.
Last Tuesday the German Deutschlandfunk broadcast a concert talk dedicated to Reizenstein.
'Musica Reanimata', a society established to remember composers who were victims of the Third Reich, had organised this. Guests were his son John and his pupil David Wilde who played also a prelude. Mr. Wilde was enthusiastic about Reizenstein's choral music, esp. the oratorio 'Genesis', a big romantic work. In fact, despite his Hindemith background, Wilde called him a romantic-at-heart. This could certainly be applied to the centrepiece of this concert, the magnificent sonata for solo violin written during the last year of his life. It was performed by Kolja Lessing, a mulit-instrumentalist who has recorded the sonatas for violin, viola and piano. Lessing, who is also a musicologist, praised Reizenstein’s virtues declaring that he never wrote any dry stuff – unlike Hindemith.

aston davis said...

Honorary English composer he may be, but there was nothing honorary about the way Britain treated this bloke during WW2. After his internment, he and Max Rostal recorded some pieces of Reizenstein's at Decca in West Hampstead in 1945. You can hear them on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7232. Very soulful.