Toch: Cello Concerto (CD review)

Also, Tanz-Suite. Susanne Muller-Hornbach, cello; Gerhard Muller-Hornbach, Mutare Ensemble. CPO 999 688-2.

Ernst Toch (1887-1964) was a Vienna-born Jewish composer much more well known in the 1920's than he is today. His career fell into decline when the Nazis forced him out of Germany in the 1930's, and he came to America to teach and write film scores. Still, his music has much to commend it. The two pieces represented on this 2002 CPO release, the Dance Suite and the Cello Concerto, derive from 1922 and 1925 respectively.

In the opening work, the Dance Suite, Toch has one foot set firmly in the nineteenth century and the other in the twentieth. Like his early twentieth-century contemporaries, Toch provides the Dance Suite with an abundance of pleasant, Romantic tunes, concluding with a traditional Viennese waltz. However, along the way he borrows heavily from people like Stravinsky, experimenting with sudden interruptions and occasional dissonant lines. He scored the piece for a small chamber ensemble of half a dozen players, and CPO's sound picks them up cleanly and accurately, if not with the greatest transparency I've heard from this label. Gerhard Muller-Hornbach and the Mutare Ensemble, a group I had never heard (or heard of) before play this and the accompanying concerto in efficient fashion. For the record, so to speak, the Mutare Ensemble has been around since its founding in 1982 in Frankfurt, Germany and has been going strong ever since.

The major piece on the disc is the Cello Concerto, and here I found things a bit less accessible. Toch wrote it for a competition and won fifth prize, the work becoming quite popular in Europe for several years thereafter. It's a concerto with much like the structure of a classical symphony (a medium Toch rejected in his early career but found quite agreeable in later life), although it emphasizes the accompanying instruments, about a dozen of them, almost as much as the featured cello. While there's some degree of imaginative writing in the Concerto and cellist Susanne Muller-Hornbch does what she can with it, it ultimately seems to me a somewhat barren affair.

Although CPO's sound is a bit overly warm and soft for my taste, at least for the nature of the music, it's a minor distraction. As usual with this label, the overall orchestral dimensions are solid; the dynamics are strong; and the frequency response, aside from being, as I say, a tad soft in the upper mids and lower treble, appears fairly well balanced.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa