Metamorphosen über ein Menuett von Schubert Henze
Der Erlkönig Zender
Schubert-Chöre 1-4 [Coronach D836; Psalm 23, D706; Der Gondelfahrer, D809; Nachtelle, D892] Schwertsik
Epilog zu Rosamunde, Op.33
Carsten Süss (tenor)
Chor der Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between July 2002 and March 2003
CD No: TUDOR 7131 Duration: 77 minutes Reviewed: March 2005
Reviewed by Nick Breckenfield
This enterprising disc is one of a number that is bringing Jonathan Notts directorship of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra to a wider audience. Their concerts at the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival were memorable, and Nott takes his Bambergers back to the 2005 Festival, where the Orchestra will be in residence for five concerts.
Nott has recorded Bruckner, Mahler and Schubert symphonies for Tudor, and there is also this disc entitled Schubert Epilog, which perhaps signals best Notts contemporary interests. Bringing together five contemporary composers adaptations of Schubert admirably exemplifies the strengths of Notts philosophy of ensuring a link in his concert programmes across all periods of music, and often focusing on themes.
The idea of taking parts of Schubert and adapting or re-orchestrating it is not new. Joachim did so with the Grand Duo (perhaps the missing 7th Symphony) and Liszt upgraded the Wanderer Fantasy into a full-blown concerto, but here all the works are from the last 30 years or so. The main one is Berios Rendering taking Schuberts sketches for the 10th Symphony and quite literally filling in the gaps with his own music. The jaunty themes of both the opening and final movements melt into single lines in the blink of an eye and suddenly we have jumped a couple of centuries into Berios filigree style. The middle movement starts in the late 20th-century before slipping back into Schuberts yearning themes and Jonathan Nott conducts the Bambergers in a wonderfully convincing performance.
I have to confess I have loved this work ever since I first heard two of the movements at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 19 June 1989; Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted the work-in-progress (before the Eroica). So enjoyable did I find it that I wanted to applaud at the end of the first movement, but a warning finger from Harnoncourt (I was sitting in the choir seats behind the organ console and right in his line of vision) stopped me silently in mid air. The work is dedicated to the then newly-appointed chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly and it is a shame that, despite his championing of it, there is no recording by him, even in the 13-CD Q-Disc box (Q97033), which does, however, contain five other Berio works. There are two other recordings of Rendering Eschenbach with the Houston Symphony on Koch, coupled with Joachims orchestration of the Grand Duo, and Berio himself with the LSO as part of an all-Berio disc for RCA. Nott probably supersedes both.
The balance of Tudors release is made up of four German composers (OK, three German and one Austrian). Two works, those by Reimann and Henze, were composed for the bicentenary of Schuberts birth in 1997, while the Zender and Schwertsik works date from earlier, from 1986 and 1978 respectively. Aribert Reimann perhaps best known in Britain for his opera Lear (and as a piano accompanist) wrote his Metamorphosen for Gidon Kremers ensemble Kremerata Musica, while Henzes orchestral fantasy was an early off-cut from his ballet Le Fils de lair. The Reimann melts away from Schuberts minuet quickly but the individual lines of the horn, four woodwinds and five string parts are sparser than in Berios full-orchestra work. A piccolo solo stands out over shifting strings, and there are some alluring and captivating passages here, before a final (yet curtailed) brief reference to Schubert.
Both Hans Werner Henze and Hans Zenders works are more grounded in Schuberts original soundworld. Henze, in his ballet remnant, aims for a general impression, a horizontal-vertical development of rising or falling intensity, with a texture varying in density. This may seem far away from both Schuberts song Der Erlkönig, in which a young child is enticed towards death, but there is a typical Schubertian constant accompaniment that propels Henzes work on to its final sudden loud ending; Henzes scheme of transformation is not to death but to manhood.
Pre-dating his re-imagining of Der Winterreise by seven years, Hans Zenders 1986 orchestral elaboration of four of Schuberts choral songs opens with two heartfelt ones for womens chorus, the second Psalm 23 with its constant pulse and ringing bells. The final two are for mens chorus, the last also with tenor solo. A constant chugging represents the movement of the drivers vehicle of the third song, sometimes with the string accompaniment aiming at distinctly different harmonies, while the final song also has a repeated undercurrent. Utterly charming; unfortunately, there are no texts or translations.
And so to Kurt Schwertsik, Schuberts only fellow Viennese composer represented. Schwertsik is known as a member of the Third Viennese School (Schubert being of the First, and Schoenberg and friends being the Second) and, like Cehra and Gruber, has developed what the note describes as a naïve simplicity in which tonality is resurrected and rhythms, melodies and harmonies are immediately accessible. In his Epilog zu Rosamunde, the soundworld is a cross between late romanticism and the world of John Adams indeed, the opening sombre introduction has a long string theme over a wanderer-esque long-short, long-short pulse that is very similar to the opening of Adamss Naïve and Sentimental Music.
Written in 1978 as a postlude to a danced version of Schuberts complete incidental music to Rosamunde but always intended to be a concert item (Dorati and the Detroit Symphony gave the première that same year), this develops into a theme and variations. It is beautifully crafted, with subtle references to Schuberts Rosamunde along the way, before cutting off in what Schwertsik describes as an abrupt and bitter way, perhaps signifying Schuberts curtailed life.
From a superb performance of Rendering to a set of works new to me that I have rapidly fallen for, this is a wonderful, beguiling disc, which is naturally recorded. It will return to my CD player regularly and even though early in the year I can almost guarantee that it will be one of my favourite discs of 2005.