The 20th-century Concerto Grosso on Chandos – An interview with pianist Maria Prinz

Written by: Colin Anderson

Maria Prinz. Photograph:

Included in its October 2013 releases is a fascinating title from Chandos: The 20th-century Concerto Grosso (CHAN 10791). It is conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and features music by Erwin Schulhoff, Ernst Krenek and Vincent d’Indy. The scoring of each piece is diverse and each requires a pianist, the Vienna-based Maria Prinz. “I wanted always to be a musician and knew this right from the beginning – the piano is my instrument. I started playing the piano at the age of six. My father Konstantin Iliev was a famous Bulgarian conductor and composer. At the beginning he didn’t encourage my musical ambitions in any way, which made me very sad, but I was determined to make my great passion my profession even without his support. Much later he explained to me that he didn’t want to influence my decision and needed the proof that I really had the inner necessity to dedicate my life to music. Later we had wonderful experiences of performing together and unforgettable conversations about music.” (Konstantin Iliev died in 1988 at the age of 64.)

Maria Prinz with Sir Neville Marriner

“The other personality of great importance in my musical life, also born in 1924 exactly like my father, but thank God in great shape, full of energy and enthusiasm is Sir Neville Marriner. Meeting him is one of the extraordinary chances of my life and am so grateful for the exhilarating moments of making music together on several occasions, which includes Beethoven and Mozart concertos and now this recording of Schulhoff, Krenek and d’Indy for Chandos. When I first spoke to Sir Neville about the idea to record this repertoire, I was so delighted and encouraged by his enthusiastic and positive attitude and his willingness to learn three new pieces.”

Working with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields is also a dream come true for Maria. “Since my very early childhood through recordings and radio broadcasts, my ideal of an orchestral sound is exactly the sound produced by the Academy. I never missed a concert of this orchestra, wherever in the world I happened to be, where they had a concert. It is hard to describe my feelings when we started the first recording session and I was surrounded by this round, rich and at the same time clear and transparent sound! Sound quality and the shaping possibilities of sound are for me to the most important parameter of making music.”

Probe a bit further into Maria’s musical preferences to find that “I adore playing chamber music, especially with wind instruments and singers. My preferred way of playing fits in a natural way with the sound of the flute.” (All three works on the Chandos disc include a solo flute.) “I try to find clear and articulate playing and enjoy very much the moment when there is no more clear boundary between both instruments.”

And it is such that thinking that “created the idea of this CD, which came to me in a sleepless night after a concert in Warsaw in December 2011. I wanted to record concertos for Flute, Piano and Orchestra, as I had a flute-piano duo with Dieter Flury, principal flute of the Vienna Philharmonic at this time. We had played many times Erwin Schulhoff’s Concerto doppio – a wonderful piece, equally rewarding for the performers and the audience.” The Schulhoff is of course included by Chandos. The piece by Vincent d’Indy was also known to here and “Dieter suggested the third piece, Krenek’s Concertino for Flute, Violin, Piano and Strings, which is really rare and has never been recorded. Although Dieter was unfortunately not able to participate in this project, his role in the genesis of this CD is an important one.” But the Vienna Philharmonic is still represented for Maria was “fortunate to get on board three outstanding musicians from that orchestra, flautist Karl-Heinz Schütz, violinist Christoph Koncz and cellist Robert Nagy.

“We had a very enjoyable and intensive rehearsing period and were looking forward to the recording sessions, which with the energetic and tireless Sir Neville and with the support of our producer Andrew Keener and sound engineer Phil Rowlands were a pure delight. The good aspect of recording for a perfectionist like me is the chance to come closer to perfection – until you have the feeling that it is right. On the other side, the day after a recording you have new, maybe more interesting ideas, which will be not on the CD. When you listen to your recording, you already are a different person to the one who made it. But this is the best part of being musician – the task and the chance to improve everything, every day of your life. As sound is very important to me, the first and crucial issue is to reproduce the sound as true as possible. The second problem is to trust the producer when he says ‘We have everything’. I am a bit of a control freak and there is a doubt, a worried inner voice asking, ‘What is going to happen if we don’t’. With Andrew and Phil, I had no worries at all.

It’s time to discuss the music on the Concerto Grosso disc. “This compilation makes perfect musical sense – all three works are in Concerto Grosso style, written almost concurrently between 1924 and 1927, which is a period in music history that deserves much more attention. The challenge in performing this music is to find an individual approach and an idiomatic sound characteristic for each of the composers’ language. It was fascinating to explore the manner in which each of these three composers, having the baroque concerto grosso as a source of inspiration, discovered a personal way to put elements of the early eighteenth century into a new context.”

Maria goes on to further explain the origin of this recording. “It always has been very important for me to perform pieces by composers persecuted by the national socialists, like Schulhoff and Krenek. Both of them were considered by the fascist regime as creators of ‘Degenerated Art’. Schulhoff died in a concentration camp and Krenek had to immigrate to the United States. I strongly belief that it is very important and rewarding for us musicians to perform and record these works prohibited and ignored for so many years! D’Indy’s concerto fits perfectly into the musical logic of this CD, but the composer’s biography and his ideological and political beliefs were the opposite of those of Schulhoff and Krenek.

“I was really shocked when I started my research about his life and ideology. D’Indy, as an ardent admirer of Richard Wagner, went as far as to embrace his anti-Semitic views and published in 1930 an anti-Semitic tract on Wagner’s influence on French music. Very few composers have damaged their own reputation so much through their written opinions as d’Indy. I had moments of doubt, whether it is morally acceptable to put his concerto alongside those by Schulhoff and Krenek. But then we decided that the quality of the music, which is high, and the opportunity, which is rare, to present three different approaches to the Concerto Grosso style was, despite the ideological issues, as reason enough to go ahead with this project.”

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