This 2006 Mode release of music by Stefan Wolpe is a significant survey of compositions from the 1930s, when he was among the most important European musicians to settle and work in Jerusalem. Even though much of his time was occupied with teaching composition and theory at the Palestine Conservatoire and directing choral performances, Wolpe found sufficient energy and creative resources to compose a substantial body of concert and theater music in these transitional and often chaotic years. The orchestral version of the Passacaglia, Op. 23 (1937), the Three Smaller Canons, Op. 24a, the Hexachord Suite, Op. 24b (both 1936), and the reconstructed Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 22 (1933-1937) are among Wolpe's earliest accomplishments in twelve-tone composition. In some ways still influenced by Webern's concepts, but also reflecting some of the more flexible applications of Hauer's trope system, Wolpe demonstrates an independence of thought and freedom of technique that sets him apart from the serial orthodoxy of his mentors; as a result, his music is often more ingratiating, naturally inflected, and transparent to the ear. In striking contrast to these dodecaphonic works, his Incidental Music for Molière's "Le malade imaginaire" (1934) is almost shocking in its neo-Classical simplicity and open tonality, and it seems to reflect an acceptance of Stravinsky's influence, along with the ideas of the Second Viennese School. The performance of the Passacaglia by Johannes Kalitzke and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln is fairly dry in tone and crisply detailed, as if to give the music a heightened, analytical outline. However, the remaining works here are performed with a more fluid feeling, warmer expression, and richer sonorities by ensemble recherche, under the direction of Werner Herbers. Mode's sound quality is a little uneven from track to track, due to the different venues and recording dates, but because occasions to hear Wolpe's music are still too rare, most of the audio problems may be excused for the sake of appreciating this phase of the composer's career.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Musik für Molières "Eingebildeten Kranken," incidental music for flute, clarinet, violin, viola & double bass, C. 55|
|Kleinere Canons in der Umkehring zweier 12-tönig (3), for viola & cello, C. 62, Op. 24a|
|Suite im Hexachord, for oboe & clarinet. C. 65, Op. 24b|
|Concerto for Nine Instruments, for 3 winds, 3 brass, violin, cello & piano (incomplete), C. 56, Op. 22|