A few months ago a list member clued me in to the fact that there were
two classical music composers named Scharwenka. The better known composer,
Xaver (born 1850), had a few piano concertos and chamber works recorded by
Collins and was also featured on Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series.
The other Scharwenka, Philipp, is Xaver's older brother by three years.
Never having heard anything by Xaver, I can't compare the two. But, MDG
has devoted a disc to Philip of his two string quartets and a piano
The three works on the disc were composed in the general time frame
of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring/Petrushka and Schonberg's Erwartung and
Orchestral Pieces, Opus 16. Any similarities end there. Scharwenka was
very content to look backward for his inspiration, but he was hardly alone;
I'm not going to fault him for his orientation.
It's best to think of Scharwenka's chamber music as romantic in
nature with little dissonance if any. However, I find it very good and
interesting music. There's nothing highly predictable, melodic invention
is at a high level, and there's plenty of contrast of moods, tempos, and
dynamic shadings. Best of all, Scharwenka doesn't go for the emotional
jugular, staying within an emotional range which suits me very well. The
earlier quartet, opus 117 in D minor, begins with a very attractive and
moderately paced allegro which presents many moods ranging from serene
nostalgia to agitation to a foreboding build-up toward disaster; it's a
great first movement. The second movement is a short and lively 6/8
intermezzo of good disposition interspersed with moments of tenderness;
this music is of the toe-tapping variety. The third movement, a relatively
tranquil andante, has its own beauty of invention and melody and does not
overstay its welcome with an eight minute duration. The fourth movement is
a spirited and sometimes agitated allegro which, unfortunately, is rather
less interesting than the previous movements.
The other string quartet, opus 120 in D major, has a first movement
which is just a little less attractive than that of the previous quartet.
The short second movement takes the form of a modified minuet and has
an attractive lyrical foundation. The third movement, an andante, is
dominated by sadness and regret with some stronger dynamic passages; this
music does tend to go on too long at almost ten minutes. With the last
movement which has fugue-like characteristics, the work returns to its
generally positive nature and is a fine piece of music made more
interesting and varied through the use of the fugue.
The piano quintet, opus 118, opens with an highly energized allegro which
alternates between powerful and tender passages; this movement is more
agitated than the first movements of either string quartet and is a winner
on all counts. The second movement adagio begins with a lovely piano solo
and is the most attractive of the slow movements on the disc. The last
movement starts slowly and expressively, giving each instrument the
opportunity to shine. The movement then becomes an allegro and loses
none of its beauty in the process.
Performing these works is the Mannheim String Quartet with the piano part
in the quintet played by Thomas Duis. Both Duis and the Mannheim String
Quartet have recorded frequently, and they all do a fine job. Recorded
sound is outstanding.
I have been listening to Dvorak chamber music a lot lately, and I think
that Scharwenka would appeal greatly to those who love their Dvorak. I
have no idea if any of the three Scharwenka works is a masterpiece, but
I've derived much pleasure from them and intend to keep listening.
By the way, there's an old photograph of Scharwenka on page five of the
booklet. Although I definitely am not in favor of list members sending
photographs of themselves to everybody, I sort of look like that photograph
on page five except that Scharwenka has more hair on his head. My best
feature is my hands; I should have become a model. That would have been a
great way to get out of many grubby domestic tasks: "Honey, please rake
the leaves in the backyard". "Sorry, babes, I have a 'shoot' tomorrow."
Don's Conclusion: Excellent music - snap it up. Catalog number is
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