Eisler: Suite for Orchestra No. 2; Suite for Orchestra No. 3; Suite for Orchestra No. 4; Suite for Orchestra No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Eisler
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Suite for Orchestra No. 2; Suite for Orchestra No. 3; Suite for Orchestra No. 4; Suite for Orchestra No. 5
PERFORMER: Ensemble Modern/HK Gruber
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 56882-2
Don’t be put off by the somewhat gimmicky title of this disc. Although the so-called ‘Roaring Twenties’ undoubtedly forms the stylistic backdrop to Eisler’s early work, the music featured here in fact emanates from the very end of the Weimar Republic – a period of bitterness and uncertainty in which many left-wing artists expressed increasing alarm at the seemingly inexorable rise of fascism and its insidious appeal to the socially deprived German working classes. The four orchestral Suites, drawn from film scores composed for Brecht, Ivens and Trivas, re-create this era most vividly. Eisler’s music, conceived for a spartan-textured ensemble of wind, brass and percussion, is harsh and provocative, and one notes in particular the skill with which some of the composer’s most popular political songs are woven into the musical fabric.

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The Ensemble Modern delivers the Suites with breathtaking virtuosity, though there are moments where the rawer playing and less sophisticated engineering on the rival Berlin Classics version seems even better suited to the music. But this is of minor consideration given the charismatic nature of Gruber’s conducting, not to mention his outstanding projection of a judiciously chosen selection of Eisler’s songs. Admittedly the gravelly voice may not be to everyone’s taste, but it works marvellously well in the poignant ‘Stormtrooper’s Song’ and the brazenly anti-apartheid ‘Ballade vom Nigger Jim’. A terrific disc which offers an ideal introduction to some of Eisler’s best music.