Wolpe: Piano Sonata (Stehende Musik); Adagio, ‘Gesang, weil ich etwas teures verlassen muss’; Tango; The Good Spirit of a Right Cause; Battle Piece; Waltz for Merle; Zemach Suite

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COMPOSERS: Wolpe
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Piano Sonata (Stehende Musik); Adagio, ‘Gesang, weil ich etwas teures verlassen muss’; Tango; The Good Spirit of a Right Cause; Battle Piece; Waltz for Merle; Zemach Suite
PERFORMER: David Holzman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9116
Tonal? Atonal? Modal? Often all three at once: Stefan Wolpe (1902-72) saw music as a huge spectrum, and didn’t want to exclude any of it. Even an early piece like the First Sonata, with outer movements as aggressive as Varèse, has a beguilingly tuneful, oddly non-developing slow movement – it starts, it continues, it stops. He wanted inclusive music because he had big subjects to discuss, and in the hair-raisingly virtuosic, 25-minute Battle Piece (begun during World War II) he portrays conflict, disillusion, renewed fighting and the dawning of hope with purely musical, even purely pianistic means: at the outset the player’s two hands present radically different musical material. The battle is tremendous, the music dense with incident, but from it melody is born. Wolpe was a modernist and a melodist – the Chaconne from the Zemach Suite is as catchily memorable as Gottschalk or Joplin. And he has wit: Waltz for Merle mercilessly deconstructs every cliché associated with the word ‘waltz’. Tough listening but immensely rewarding; in his centenary year Wolpe is at last emerging as a major and powerfully eloquent voice. David Holzman passionately believes in this music and, crucially, has the scorching technique to do it justice. Michael Oliver

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