Pianist Andrew Burashko and friends were in top form last night, performing the music of Jewish-Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff at the Glenn Gould Studio. With a mere four works on the evening's program, Burashko was able to paint an impressive picture of Schulhoff's mastery as composer. From quasi-morceau de conservatoire to concertante works; from solo and oeuvres for larger ensemble, Antonin Dvořák was on the mark when he pronounced the boy Schulhoff a genius.
Burashko and saxophonist Phil Dwyer opened the programme with the Hot Sonate for Alto Sax and Piano. Jaunty and sensual, Burashko and Dwyer gave a clean, technically brilliant interpretation. Dwyer filled the hall with luscious tone and Burashko proved to be an able collaborator. However, something was missing. The somewhat oxymoronic title may have beguiled the duo: Should the inspiration for the work's performance be from its heat or form? In a letter to Alban Berg, Schulhoff admitted that he had “... a tremendous passion for the fashionable dances” largely out of a “rhythmic enthusiasm and subconscious sensuality.” While Dwyer's and Burashko's interpretation simmered, it never boiled. The third movement in particular—unapologetic in its sexuality—did not reach the climax required to capture the essence of the composer's carefree days. Nonetheless, the Sonate was a treat to hear and deserves to be performed again.
With the arrival of Susan Hoeppner, Steven Dann and Joel Quarrington, we felt instinctively that we were in good hands; these old pros emanated a wonderful sense of camaraderie. The Concertino for Double Bass, Viola and Flute is a dark, brooding piece with a sinewy, “orientale” motif running throughout its first movement. The folksy “Furiant” that followed offered different sonorities and textures as Hoeppner switched to the piccolo. This Concertino demonstrated each artist's temperament and abilities without extraneous ego: Quarrington, a Harley Davidson exuding a commanding onstage presence; Dann, a Jaguar, elegant, but ready to pounce; Hoeppner a BMW convertible—fun-loving, but no pushover.
Burashko returned to end the first half with Five Jazz Etudes for Piano. There is no doubt that he can play, and very well at that. From the “Charleston” to the “Blues”; to the “Chanson” to the “Tango” and the concluding “Toccata sur le Shimmy 'Kitten on the Keys',” what Burashko needs is less energy devoted to virtuosity—that is the easy part for him—and more trust in his own ability to savour the sensuality of each piece and the silence between them. A great wine tastes better when given a few minutes to breathe.
Schulhoff's Sextet concluded the evening. Composed at the tender age of 30, the music shows a remarkable maturity whose sombre eeriness foreshadows some of the twentieth century's darkest hours. From the cello's opening motif, the six musicians demonstrated a tremendous understanding of Schulhoff's expressionistic flavour. The second movement explored highly original soundscapes of muted violas playing in unison two octaves apart from the cellos over an oppressive drone that expressed inconsolable anguish. The third movement, “Burleska,” captured the soul of the Entartete (so-called “degenerate” artist), mocking an increasingly restrictive political regime before closing with a poignant “Adagio.”
Here, the sextet showed their authenticity as both musicians and ambassadors for the composer, playing with rarely paralleled emotional depth and cohesion. Marie Bérard—once again—shone as leader. She allowed the ensemble to display its musical intelligence, retaining an overarching survey of the work's architecture with poise and understanding of the emotional impact of both silence and gesture.
Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble make live music worth attending. Committed and collegial, they are an ardent voice for the forgotten artist. JWR