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CD Reviews

Music Library Reviews:Jeremy Kurtz and Hermann Bischoff

In this new series, Classical 91.7's music librarian Chris Hathaway reviews new additions to our ever-growing CD library. This month, Chris reviews Jeremy Kurtz’s Sonatas & Meditations, and Hermann Bischoff’s Symphony No. 2.

Jeremy Kurtz’s Sonatas & Meditations – Released in partnership with KUHF.

David Anderson: Sonata for Double Bass and Piano. Luís Prado: Three Meditations for Double Bass and Piano. Jeremy Kurtz, double bass; Ines Irawati, piano.

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier: Sonata in D, op. 50/3. Kurtz; with Alison Luedecke, harpsichord and Benjamin Kamins, bassoon. (KUHF JK-001)

Jeremy Kurtz is principal bassist of the San Diego Symphony, with which he quite recently played the première of John Harbison’s Concerto.  The two late-20th-century works were recorded in the KUHF Performance Studio and engineered by our own Todd Hulslander.  The Boismortier Sonata, dating from 1734, was designated by the composer — best known for his many flute sonatas — as for cello, gamba or bassoon, and was recorded by Mr. Kurtz and his continuo team at Rice University’s Duncan Recital Hall.

David Anderson’s Sonata, completed in 1990, is an echo of Prokofiev, skillfully and idiomatically written (which is not surprising, since Mr. Anderson is himself a bass player).  I did have some difficulty keeping track of the structure of the first movement.  The slow movement, the second of the three, begins with an invitingly long stretch of melody for the bass.  In this movement’s aggressive second section, some interesting sul ponticello effects (mostly with rapidly bowed tremolos) are complemented by the pianist’s reaching into the soundboard and playing glissandi across the strings, to the accompaniment of a ponderous left hand.  There is no return of the original lyrical idea; instead, Anderson goes directly into a bridge passage (with interesting octaves in double stops) which serves to introduce the concluding asymmetrical finale.  Mr. Kurtz handles the daunting double stops, prominent toward the end of the first movement, with consummate ease.  Ms. Irawati is a consistently sympathetic and alert partner.

Puerto Rico-born Luís Prado’s Three Meditations (1999) seem like extended recitatives, the last two in the character of a recitative and aria (but shaped very differently from each other). Mr. Kurtz commissioned this set from Mr. Prado, whom he met at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia when both were students there, and reveals himself as a most persuasive advocate of these interesting miniatures. 

The Boismortier receives a clean and thoroughly musical performance, and Mr. Kurtz makes a good case for it as a double bass piece. His collaborators are well in accord with him throughout.  He seems to have something of the spirit of Serge Koussevitzky in him in his bringing the bass out of the shadows and into the vicinity of center stage, and in enlarging its solo repertory.

Hermann Bischoff (1868-1936): Symphony No. 2 in d minor (1911, revised 1918); Introduction and Rondo (1925).  Werner Andreas Albert conducting Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz (CPO 777206).

Hermann Bischoff, who died of a pulmonary embolism just two weeks after marking his 68th birthday, ended his days in an unrewarding but well-paying job as an executive of the Berlin Copyright Law Society.  The position had been arranged by Richard Strauss, just four years his senior, with whom he had a bizarrely ambivalent relationship.  In some ways, Bischoff’s thoroughgoing romanticism is more “conservative” than that of Strauss.  Bischoff met Strauss at Weimar in 1890, when both men were in their twenties and Strauss was already making a name for himself as a composer as well as a conductor.   Bischoff worked for Strauss, assisting him with opera productions, essentially doing volunteer work.  Bischoff, by the time he revised the second symphony, had moved away from Strauss’ influence — and dedicated the published version to Willem Mengelberg.

Bischoff’s catalogue is not large.  He seems to have spent most of his life in pursuit of withdrawal from the world and also of the pleasures of doing nothing; when he took pen to paper, which unfortunately wasn’t very often, the result usually was a masterpiece.  The second symphony — which had a difficult birth — reveals a composer who really knows what he is about, and very accomplished and facile writing for a large orchestra, and his handling of string and harp, English horn solos here and there and his use of the brass group are always gratifying touches, the touches of a master.  A 1912 review of a Strauss performance of the work called it “enthralling but uneven”, and no one was more aware of things that needed fixing than the composer himself.  This symphony was written at Strauss’ request, and Bischoff was working under the strain of meeting a deadline.  The Adagio — the third of four movements, and the longest — benefited the most from the thorough overhaul of the score. 

The Introduction and Rondo, Bischoff’s very last composition, was a present to the conductor Ernst Boehe, who often included the second symphony in his programs.  It is imbued with very much the same musical values as the second symphony.  Werner Andreas Albert and the Rheinland-Pfalz orchestra have served a much-neglected composer handsomely in this recording.