Maria Herz — Ripe for Rediscovery

Maria Herz was another artist whose career was derailed by the Nazis. In the 1920s Herz was a brilliant pianist. Her own music was well-received. But Herz was a Jew, and her career ceased in 1933. Jews were banned from performing in Germany, and their music was pulled from the market. 

Her family assets were seized — including her manuscripts. Herz moved continually over the next six years. She searched for refuge for herself and her children. Herz eventually landed in Britain, where she would wait out the war. She stopped composing in 1933 when she left Germany. She had written about 30 works.

This album features four of her compositions — all world premiere recordings. And they all show what the world lost when her voice was silenced. Herz’s manuscripts were presumed lost. So Herz was unable to get her music performed after the war. Her manuscripts only recently came to light, so we can finally hear them. 

The works presented here show a composer fully immersed in the changing music scene of the 1920s. Herz’s 1927 piano concerto straddles the transition from Post-Romantic to Modern. In some ways, it reminded me of Paul Hindemith. Tonal, but with new thoughts about what tonality meant. Oliver Triendl plays with authority and swagger. This is a concerto that demands attention — and Triendl rewards that attention.

The 1930 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 10 shows Herz’s development. This work sounds less like Hindemith, and more like, well, Herz. Cellist Konstanze von Gutzeit gives a fine reading. Her playing of the double-stop passages is exceptional — and moving. As with Herz’s piano concerto, the solo instrument is the star here. And von Gutzeit doesn’t disappoint. I would love to see her perform this live. 

The Four Short Pieces for Large Orchestra, Op. 8 have a different character. To my ears, this 1929 work resembles Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht.” It has a dreamlike quality to it. Subtle cross rhythms give the orchestra a smeary sound. And the climaxes never quite deliver until the end. Christiane Silber leads the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in a moving performance.

The same is true of their performance of the Orchestra Suite, Op. 13. This was composed in 1931, and shows where Herz was heading. The work is both fluid and complex. And while it has a tonal center, shifting harmonies continually blur it. I wish Herz had been allowed to continue growing as a composer — instead of scrambling to survive.

Maria Herz: Piano Concerto
Cello Concerto; Ochestral Works
Oliver Triendl, piano; Konstanze von Gutzeit, cello
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Christiane Silber, conductor
Capricco C5510

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