Schubert Epilog

0 of 5 stars

Metamorphosen über ein Menuett von Schubert
Der Erlkönig
Schubert-Chöre 1-4 [Coronach D836; Psalm 23, D706; Der Gondelfahrer, D809; Nachtelle, D892]
Epilog zu Rosamunde, Op.33

Carsten Süss (tenor)

Chor der Bamberger Symphoniker

Bamberger Symphoniker
Jonathan Nott

Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between July 2002 and March 2003

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: March 2005
CD No: TUDOR 7131
Duration: 77 minutes

This enterprising disc is one of a number that is bringing Jonathan Nott’s 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 Nott’s contemporary interests. Bringing together five contemporary composers’ ‘adaptations’ of Schubert admirably exemplifies the strengths of Nott’s 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 Berio’s Rendering – taking Schubert’s 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 Berio’s filigree style. The middle movement starts in the late 20th-century before slipping back into Schubert’s 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 Joachim’s 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 Tudor’s 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 Schubert’s 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 Kremer’s ensemble Kremerata Musica, while Henze’s orchestral fantasy was an early off-cut from his ballet Le Fils de l’air. The Reimann melts away from Schubert’s minuet quickly but the individual lines of the horn, four woodwinds and five string parts are sparser than in Berio’s 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 Zender’s works are more grounded in Schubert’s 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 Schubert’s song “Der Erlkönig”, in which a young child is enticed towards death, but there is a typical Schubertian constant accompaniment that propels Henze’s work on to its final sudden loud ending; Henze’s scheme of transformation is not to death but to manhood.

Pre-dating his re-imagining of “Der Winterreise” by seven years, Hans Zender’s 1986 orchestral elaboration of four of Schubert’s choral songs opens with two heartfelt ones for women’s chorus, the second – Psalm 23 – with its constant pulse and ringing bells. The final two are for men’s chorus, the last also with tenor solo. A constant chugging represents the movement of the driver’s 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, Schubert’s 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 Adams’s Naïve and Sentimental Music.

Written in 1978 as a postlude to a danced version of Schubert’s 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 Schubert’s Rosamunde along the way, before cutting off in what Schwertsik describes as an “abrupt and bitter” way, perhaps signifying Schubert’s 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.

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