Schubert Dialog

0 of 5 stars

Lied für Orchester
“Erscheinung” Skizze über Schubert für 9 Streicher und Klavier ad lib
Mit Ausdruck
Schubert-Phantasie (Re-Visionen) für geteiltes grossesOrchester

Peter Selwyn (piano)

Alain Billard (bass clarinet)

Bamberger Symphoniker
Jonathan Nott

Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between October 2002 and May 2004

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: September 2005
CD No: TUDOR 7132
Duration: 78 minutes

Completing a concert project undertaken by Jonathan Nott and his Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in the 2003 season, this disc is as satisfying as its forebear, “Schubert Epilog”, which I reviewed previously. Nott’s idea was to preface each of Schubert’s symphonies (which Tudor has also recorded) with orchestral works that recreated some facet of Schubert through a 20th-century prism. Works like Berio’s Rendering from the first disc) and – from this one – the Rihm and Schnebel were already extant, the latter two a result of the 150th-anniversary of Schubert’s death in 1978, but two new commissions had to be made; both included here, addingan early-21st-century dimension.

The project shows an energising approach to concert planning. The longest work on this well-filled disc is Jörg Widmann’s Lied für Orchester, which the idiosyncratically translated but detailed booklet note informs was finished on 3 December 2003, just a week before its 10 December world premiere. Oddly enough the length – roughly290 bars – is the same as the other Bamberg commission, from Bruno Mantovani: but Widmann’s Lied lasts twice as long. From that you can gather it’s a slow pace; with glances of Schubert (the String Quintet in C, is in there somewhere, as is the Octet) heard through what seems like occluded glass. But it is not Schubert that immediately comes to mind, rather it is Mahler, the gargantuan opening and closing movements of either the Ninth or Tenth Symphonies, as details suddenly swing into focus and just as suddenly die away again, making way for shattering orchestral climaxes. Widmann’s ear is an expert one at mixing instrumental timbres – much of the near half-hour is hushed with only a very few of his vast palette of sounds weaving together at any one time. This provides a mesmeric piece, distinctly of its contemporary time, but earthed in the 19th- or early-20th-century (be it Schubert or Mahler), and followed with relative ease. It is also a good piece to re-hear; always growing and never revealing all its secrets.

Wolfgang Rihm – teacher of Widmann – is one of the most prolific of composers. His piece, and the one by his teacher Dieter Schnebel, were written for the 150th-anniversary of Schubert’s death. Rihm’s is in two parts, a short piano solo, which can be played either before or after the main movement, which is for three each of violins, violas and cellos. This “sketch for Schubert” with the overall title ‘Appearance’ seeks to bring Schubert to life after so many years, and the string parts are for the most part buoyant – having been in unison and fairly strident to start, with some recognisable Schubertian cadences suddenly appearing from the textures. The recording of the strings is detailed and close, giving real presence and tangible attack.

Bruno Mantovani is a 31-year-old French percussionist, pianist and composer. His ‘With Expression’ for bass clarinet and orchestra takes as its starting point phrases from piano accompaniments to eight of Schubert’s songs worked into a seven-section piece, with the solo part here taken by French clarinettist Alain Billard. His is an extraordinary technique, with the clatter of keys and breath-sounds bringing an additional rhythmic pulse to Mantovani’s fast music (a great contrast to Rihm’s work). This is virtuoso stuff and exciting, which will take repeated listening to fathom each of Schubert’s original phrases. Quieter reaches are heard, such as the woodwinds joining the soloist’s eerie calls, but waves of brass and percussion interrupt. Those die out, too, and over a bed of strings Billard utters his last phrases, the very end (as in the very beginning) with no accompaniment at all.

Dieter Schnebel’s Schubert-Phantasie is the fifth of a series of seven ‘Re-Visionen’ – that also reference to Bach, Webern, Beethoven and Wagner. The Schubert part was commissioned for the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Schnebel revised the work in 1989. He took as his starting point a theme from Schubert’s G major Piano Sonata (D894) in which he found the potential for orchestral effects and recreates the sonata’s progress in snatches, passed across his performers. Schnebel talks of a veiled sound – immediately recognisable at the start of his piece – from which “feelings emerge from formlessness”. The way that horns and winds suddenly appear with the Sonata’s main theme through the haze of strings is really quite magical. Schnebel even implies a similarity to Shostakovich, Schubert working at a time of Napoleonic threat, which meantyou had to keep thoughts to yourself. Finally this veil – or even mirage – makes what’s behind even more beautiful. The music certainly has that curious effect. Of the four composers on this CD, Schnebel quotes the most Schubert, and rounds this disc of magnificently.

There is no doubting the stamp of authority that Nott and his Bambergers achieve on this disc; vividly recorded, as was its forebear. It’s a release that deserves to be heard by many. In a world that now talks of “intelligent design” rather than “creation”, all I can do is applaud Tudor’s ‘intelligent programming’. It all goes to show that Schubert really does stand the test of time.

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