David's Review Corner
, January 2007
Stefan Wolpe was born in Germany in 1902 and it was in Berlin that he received his early musical training before moving to Vienna where he studied orchestration with Webern and became a devout advocate of the Second Viennese School. A chequered career, much of the time spent as a performing musician, eventually took him across the Atlantic and to a number of high profile teaching posts in the United States. There he was seen to be one of the progressive composers working with an unswerving allegiance to pure atonality. Later he became disenchanted with conventional serialism and began to take a free and personalised view of atonality. The works on this disc, from 1942 and 1949 respectively, largely predate this change, and come well before he was to become a victim Parkinson's disease. You may join me in struggling to come to terms with Wolpe's sound world, but the ballet, The Man from Mantua, scored for two pianos would make as good a starting point as any. Mixing atonality with the sumptuous sounds of one of his mentors, Franz Schreker, comes close to a readily approachable piece. Try for a sample track 11, the big March through the Red Sea. Often fiendishly difficult with the added challenge of fitting the two parts together has been admirably surmounted by Grant and Winn. The spiky opening movement of the Violin Sonata leads to a score where aggression and conflict are the main characteristics. The onslaught by both musicians is laced with agility and power. Both performances have previously been available on the Koch label, the piano duo sound is good, but the piano is set too far back in the sonata with the ambience of an 'empty hall' acoustic. The disc comes in Naxos's 'Limited Edition' series, and seems to be aimed at the American market. So those outside the US could look to Internet sales.