"What with Nixon in China and Tomas Adès’s astonishing recital, there’s been a lot of focus on the new and adventurous for classical music fans in the last two weeks.
Adventures continued Friday afternoon when Toronto’s ARC Ensemble appeared for the Chutzpah! Festival, playing a program of nearly-forgotten composers, each writing in a different Mittel-European voice from exile in Great Britain.
Robert Kahn was an almost exact contemporary of Richard Strauss, whose conservative late-romantic idiom was demonstrated in a lush set of songs, beautifully sung by baritone Peter Barrett, with piano trio.
Matyas Seiber was a neoclassical modernist; his Divertimento for clarinet and strings (supposedly sketched in the 1920s but given final form in the ’50s) has a sort of “Bartok-lite” feeling, but it’s well crafted and effective—and effectively played, with clarinetist Joaquim Valdepeñas in the major role.
The major work of the afternoon was Franz Reizenstein’s Piano Quintet. Conceived in a loquacious Hindemithian mode, the piece may lack charm, but not power: big music in every way, and given a passionate delivery by the Ensemble. This was an afternoon of discoveries, and the fine playing of the various musician teams was surpassed only by the intrinsic nobility of their mission: to bring work of worthy but overlooked composers to our collective consciousness."
David Gordon Duke, Vancouver Sun
March 21, 2010
"Under the heading Music in Exile, the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music presented at Cadogan Hall a weekend of concerts and lectures exploring the world of composers forced in the 1930s to flee from Germany and Austria by the oppressive regime of the Third Reich, many of whom found sanctuary in Britain and the USA.
The final concert on 13 April concluded with Through Roses, a music drama for actor and eight instrumentalists by the contemporary American composer Marc Neikrug that takes its inspiration from the experiences of musicians forced to perform in the concentration camps. Specifically it is based on the recollections of the fictitious violinist and Auschwitz survivor Carl Stern, who worked as a camp gardener and witnessed the fate of his fellow inmates through a rose hedge.
Played by the actor Saul Rubinek, himself born in a refugee camp after World War II, Stern is portrayed as an old man living in a cluttered room in New York, his treasured violin linking him to memories of the past that haunt him, but to which he clings, pathetically. First seen in pyjamas in bed, he gets up, puts on his tail coat and hat, picks up his violin as though setting off to a concert, but thoughts of a concentration-camp life come floating back. Intermittently, he sleeps in his armchair then wakes, to remember the other camp inmates for whom he played, the sick in hospital, the dead, the children, the smoking chimneys, the commandant who appreciated great music, and his wife, who cultivated the garden outside their house, bordered by a hedge of roses. As he drifted in and out of sleep, his words were not always clear and the music took over his recollections with its echoes of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, and others, pieces that he might well have played in the camp, integrated into Neikrug’s own evocative writing. The composer conducted the eight musicians of the English Chamber Orchestra Ensemble, led by Stephanie Gonley, and Saul Rubinek directed his own telling, shambling, moving performance amid the cluster of furniture positioned in front of the musicians. Through Roses is an effective piece of music theatre, composed in 1979-80, premiered in New York, and to date has been performed in 15 countries."
Margaret Davies, Musical Opinion
"Julius Röntgen (1855-1932), younger brother of Wilhelm, the scientist who discovered x-rays and won a Nobel Prize in 1901, was a composer out of his time. All four works on this recording date from the last decade of his life, yet there is nothing here (apart, perhaps, from the eerie semitonal clashes that open the Viola Sonata’s third movement) that would have sounded remotely out of place in Brahms’s music of the 1880s. The gentle off-beat piano chords that open the Clarinet Trio continue where the first movement of Brahms’s E minor Cello Sonata leaves off, while the pizzicato-accompanied textures of the Sextet’s andante second movement inhabit the same world as the Scherzo from Brahms’s Second Sextet. The effect at times is uncannily as though one were discovering a new piece by the grand master himself.
Yet Röntgen was very much his own man and has the habit of coming up with an idea that once heard is difficult to expunge from the memory—the opening ostinato of the Piano Quintet, for example, with its rocking cello pizzicatos, agitated viola figurations and clouded piano textures, supporting ravishing violin lines of long-breathed purity. Music of this quality cries out for exemplary musicianship, and the ARC Ensemble (musicians from The Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada) sets the skin rippling at every turn with its ear-tingling corporate intonation and magical phrasing, caught to perfection by award-winning producer David Frost. It seems invidious to single out an individual member of this remarkable ensemble for special praise, but violinist Erika Raum, who leads both the quintet and sextet, had me hanging on to her every note. This is a sensational release."
Julian Haylock, The Strad