Publisher Profile

Shapeshifter – Music of Erwin Schulhoff DE3566 Review

By: |

The Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at the Colburn School

1. Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Op. 43 (21:05)
Molto sostenuto
Allegro alla jazz
Dominic Cheli, piano
RVC Ensemble
James Conlon, conductor

Five Pieces for String Quartet (15:29)
2. Alla valse Viennese (2:03)
3. Alla serenata (3;39)
4. Alla czeca (1:45)
5. Alla tango milonga (5:04)
6. Alla tarantella (2:58)
Gallia Kastner, violin
Adam Millstein, violin
Cara Pogossian, viola
Ben Solomonow, cello

Suite for Piano, Left Hand (18:40)
7. Preludio (4:26)
8. Air (4:53)
9. Zingara (2:10)
10. Improvisazione (4:33)
11. Finale (2:38)
Dominic Cheli, piano

Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (16:17)
12. Allegro impetuoso (6:35)
13. Andante (3:52)
14. Burlesca: Allegretto (2:18)
15. Allegro risoluto (3:32)
Adam Millstein, violin
Dominic Cheli, piano
16. Susi (5:26)
Dominic Cheli, piano

Total Playing Time: 76:58

Shapeshifter: Music of Erwin Schulhoff

“Greek mythology tells us that Apollo set out from the island of Delos every morning with his lyre in hand, bringing light, music and healing to the world. We at Delos share the awareness that our world needs the balm of music.” – Amelia S. Haygood, Delos Founder (1919-2007)

During the eighties through the nineties, Delos released compact discs of considerable merit under the baton of Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony, a success due in part to the beautiful, extraordinary sound as rendered by their exclusive use of the Soundstream Digital Recorder. In those days, no other label could rival Delos in the sheer naturalness of sound in the compact disc format sans the digital harshness prevalent in productions from the rest of the music industry.

The subject of this review is the latest music from Delos, Shapeshifter, “Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Op. 43,” from nineteenth century composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), available for download in 24-bit 96kHz resolution (WAV, FLAC, or ALAC). If you have heard all the piano concertos from the Germanic Three Bs and some from the late-romantic Russians, such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, and you’re ready for newer inspirations, then consider this new Delos release. Contrasting the consummately sweeping melodies of the aforementioned compositions is the very interesting creativity of this work, within the atonal methodology, an approach in which harmonic priority gives way to structural emphasis.

Now, no composer in her/his right mind would compose something repulsive and unsellable, lest it is chucked aside in the annals of artistic accomplishments. Yet, atonal music has been enjoying considerable recognition albeit soliciting strong, immediate reactions from many listeners.

Atonality became trendy after the First World War. Its music harbors not sweeping melodies but structures meaningful primarily to its performers and those peers in the know, and oftentimes hardly at all to the casual audience. Music as a universal language, therefore, loses its raison d’être amidst the masses in the atonal school. Renowned composers in this school include Bartok, John Cage, Debussy, and Stravinsky, all of whom are celebrated for their more traditional, tonal works.

Very rarely does an atonal work emerge as a viable alternative to its tonal counterpart in traversing the often highly binary nature of the masses’ reactions, and the concerto on Shapeshifter is one such startling example. It hovers between the two realms of tonality and atonality rather precariously. Per the booklet, Shapeshifter is a reference to the ease and mastery with which Schulhoff blended the diverse ingredients [of neo-folk, dance, jazz and Dadaism with art music.]

The concerto on Shapeshifter is decidedly tonal albeit never melodic in the twenty minutes or so of playing, though its musical messages flow and progress as if camouflaging an awareness more rooted in its pure conscious existence than its emotional elements. Oh you won’t tear up in the moment or jump with joy but the music is nonetheless beholding. Some instances will remind you of Ravel and even Rachmaninov but that’s just because of the extent of its complexity. It is music one can follow and its conclusion naturally arrives, without so much as a wrinkle. And because it doesn’t press on a central theme, it’s curiously endearing to repeated listening. “It sounded nice but what did I actually just listen to? I gotta play it again!”

The remaining 56 minutes of the release delve into three other pieces of the composer’s earlier works, such as the fifteen-minute “Five Pieces for String Quartet,” the nineteen-minute “Suite for Piano and Left Hand,” the sixteen-minute “Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano,” and lastly, the five-minute piano solo petite, “Susi.” All are very easy on the ear and unexpectedly fleeting in their progression, even after repeated listening. They are so short that at times I felt I need to replay them to re-experience the moments within. An excellently written brochure on the composer, the music and the artists satiates the more motivated reader.

In this age of ubiquitous high-resolution, the sonic advantage Delos possessed is now shared by labels large and small, and the spatial resolution, timbre naturalness and textural resolution of instruments of this recording is up there among the best. Reproduced through the Sound Lab electrostatic panels, the instruments are stunning in the realism of their dynamics and extension.


Review system:

PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 AC regenerator

Acoustic Sciences Corporation TubeTraps
Audio Reference Technology Analysts EVO RCA
Audio Reference Technology Analysts SE interconnects, power cables
Audio Reference Technology Super SE interconnects, power cables

Aurender N-1000SC caching music server/streamer
Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB cable
Esoteric K-01XD SACD player/USB DAC

Pass Laboratories Xs Preamp
Pass Laboratories XA200.8 pure class A monoblocks
Bricasti Design M28 class A/AB monoblocks
Sound Lab Majestic 645 electrostatic panels

Copy editor: Dan Rubin


  • (Page 1 of 1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :