GMCD 7194 – Music by Paul Müller-Zürich
Swiss Radio Orchestra, Gerhard Wieser – Viola, Edmond de Stoutz – Director, Andrew Zolinsky – Piano, Alan Hacker – Basset-Horn, Miranda Davis – Viola, Oliver Gledhill – Cello
Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Ressort Feuilleton, 30. Mai 2001, Nr.123, Seite 66
Längsschnitt durch das Werk Paul Müllers
tsr. Der Zürcher Komponist Paul Müller (1898-1993) war als Theorielehrer am Konservatorium nicht nur eine prägende Figur des Zürcher Kulturlebens, sondern als Komponist auch eine der führenden Gestalten der Schweizer Kunstmusik des 20. Jahrhunderts. Die vorliegende CD bietet einen Längsschnitt durch das Werk Müllers mit dem Schwerpunkt Kammermusik. Für die frühe Phase am Schnittpunkt zwischen Spätromantik und Neobarock und auch für die Nähe zu Othmar Schoeck stehen die 1924-26 entstandenen Klavierstücke op. 10. Ganz im neobarocken Stil gehalten ist dann das Concerto in f-Moll für Bratsche und kleines Orchester (1934), das in einer historischen Aufnahme mit Gerhard Wieser und dem Radio-Orchester Beromünster unter der Leitung von Edmond de Stoutz zu hören ist. Eine originelle Besetzung bietet das c-Moll-Quartett für Violine, Klarinette, Cello und Klavier, das Roland Roberts, Alan Hacker, Oliver Gledhill und Andrew Zolinsky mit wachem Gespür für wechselnde Klangfarben interpretieren. In der Sonate für Violine und Klavier op. 32 (1941) hat der Komponist einen Ausgleich zwischen kontrapunktischem Reichtum und lyrischem Ausdruck gefunden; ein geradezu intimes Gepräge zeichnet hier den langsamen Variationssatz aus. Das Alterswerk ist mit dem harmlosen Trio für Bassetthorn, Viola und Cello etwas leichtgewichtig vertreten. Dafür trägt der erste Satz, die als Neujahrsstück der Allgemeinen Musikgesellschaft Zürich entstandene Serenata turicensis, augenzwinkerndes Lokalkolorit.
Classics on the Web – March
Even the name’s quaintly informative. It tells us that this composer was the youngest of a generation of Swiss composers who all became known internationally – eventually: Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957), Frank Martin (1890-1974) and Arthur Honegger (1892-1955). Paul Müller-Zürich was born in Zurich 21 June 1898, young enough to absorb the influence of these older composers as well as, more immediately, that of Busoni pupil, Philipp Jarnach whom he studied with. Jarnach is best known for completing his master’s Doktor Faust in C minor, in 1925; whereas Anthony Beaumont has revised the whole to an emphatic E flat major gleam of hope. That tells you something about the expressionist-tinged late romanticism that also made up Jarnach’s character. Busoni’s living influence transmitted itself deeply enough for his Young Classicism to transmute into Müller-Zürich’s neo-baroque modes.
Aesthetics aside it’s Othmar Schoeck’s sound-world that Müller-Zürich first evokes. The Six Piano Pieces (1924-26) move from that world – Schoeck’s lieder without the words, perhaps. The first ‘entrata’ is suggested as almost a set of variations on Schoeck’s Consolation for piano (1919). The most Schoeckian of all, is the second piece, Elegie: a rich evocation, tinged with individual melody. This really flowers later on. Towards the end of the cycle Bach pops up – perhaps reflecting that the two years of the cycle spanned a formative period. Here we find counterpoint, a move to angularity and a busier line. Late romanticism rather engorges this, and again it’s that intriguing chromatic edge of Busoni’s that comes to mind. This is late romanticism stretching a clenched fist of solidarity to Schoenberg, but athletic with neo-classic forefingers. Effective, but one misses the piano music Schoeck never got round to writing. Andrew Zolinsky’s playing, and the piano sound are excellent.
Ten years later comes the bulk of the work on this disc. First, the 1965 ADD recording with Gerhard Wieser of the Viola Concerto in f minor Op 24 (1934), for me the most attractive work, together with the Piano Quartet and the second of the piano pieces. Hindemith had written two viola concertos before this, of course, in his Kammermusik, and their angularity is reflected here. Clearly both composers had mellowed by 1934 – it’s more true to say Müller-Zürich had always retained a romantic tinge to his thematic material. The opening is a case in point, neo-baroque in its repeated ostinato-like Fs it suddenly dips decorously at the end of two bars and rises the same stairs. A cadenza follows as centre-piece and swiftly returns to the opening after some development. The second movement is based around a slowly winding three-note theme, with some wonderful playing off against the oboe. The third starts with a pre-echo of Walton’s ‘Death of Falstaff’ from Henry V, and then proceeds on a set of passacaglia variations. The alla giga returns us to an exhortative homage to Hindemith, almost … In fact it reminds one tangentially of Franz Reizenstein (1911-68), that pupil of both Hindemith and Vaughan Williams. And something oddly modal creeps into some of Müller-Zürich’s work. There’s something almost English about all this, which is merely to say that the different sensibilities of Swiss composers inhabit a world of reticence and melancholy not far removed from much British music. It’s really memorable and shaped to the viola’s inherent melancholy. Had Müller-Zürich heard Hindemith play the Walton? Either way, it heralds something of a discovery for viola players, should they get to hear of it. Only the BBC would have the courage to programme it, but as the single representative of Müller-Zürich’s orchestral works on this disc it begs several questions. Guild could hardly afford to licence other orchestral recordings, and decide to follow this vintage performance with chamber music.
It’s another Walton who enters the lists for Müller-Zürich: Chris Walton, the Schoeck scholar who pushed his composer to a BBC centenary and started the revivals. No doubt this accounts for his acuity in noting Schoeck’s piano piece in the first of the Op. 10. He’s given scant space to expound on his subject before the group of attractive Guild-gathered players are given their biography.
A Second String Quartet of 1961 had Müller-Zürich defending his by now old-fashioned stance against Darmstadt. He suggested that even traditional music set problems that each time had to be answered freshly. It begs questions, though. On this evidence, Müller-Zürich was a consummate master of large-scale forms in a romanticised neo-classicism, and recalling the finest of Hindemith’s and Honegger’s works in this medium. I’d suggest that the quartets might provide some of Müller-Zürich’s finest discoveries.
Walton suggests that by the time of the Violin Sonata Op. 32, the war had charged his language with romanticism. Yes – Honegger’s Violin Sonatas spring forward as the closest parallels, and this composer’s influence has yet to be traced in Müller-Zürich’s work. It’s full-blooded in its rhetoric at times, yet elusive at the edges. The Sonata is a work to return to.
The delightful Trio for basset-horn, viola and cello of 1981 comes with the gooseberry flavours we expect in Hindemith, but with ripe fruit overtones and a light finish. Les Six and composers like Ibert and Auric are never too far away, hence the light ripe fruit.
This finally brings us to the Piano Quartet in c minor Op. 26. This is for violin, clarinet, cello and piano, written in 1937, but revised in 1971 to greater expressiveness. This is really a personally darker work, expressive and powerful. The clarinet lends a wayward Englishness but the whole composition unwinds in a far less neo-classic groundedness, or grindedness than in some other works. An empathic descending theme where piano and winds double each other, tread out with a kind of heavy delicacy the slightly sour baroque cut of the theme. It’s as if French-Swiss influences like Honegger’s have infused form as well as colour. The second movement scurries into more assertive neo-baroque, but again it’s the French rather than Hindemithian cut that this falls prey to. Catchy dotted rhythms attempt to harry the finale which eddies with private ruminations. This fast movement contains some of the most memorable material since the opening of the Viola Concerto. Themes chase each other across the counterpoint with a melancholy zest.
A major discovery in Swiss music, Müller-Zürich might prove something more, a fourth master. A substantial minor one on this showing, but enduring.
Paul Müller-Zürich was quite unknown to me until I heard this disc. He was born in Zurich and studied with Busoni pupil, Philipp Jarnach and with that denizen of the budget LP, conductor Volkmar Andreae. He moved to Paris for studies with Jean Batalla. From 1927 to 1968 he lectured at the Zurich Conservatoire dying in Luzern in 1993. I do not have any other information on him and would gladly have foregone Guild’s paragraphs of artist information for a list of works and dates. However the key thing is the music.
The concerto is decidedly neo-baroque in style but with romantic tendencies. The Great Bach is never far from sight but then there are also several Beethovenian strokes. The work may well remind you of Hindemith’s Schwanendreher Concerto. The 1965 mono ADD recording has its meed of hiss but nothing to detract unduly from a work well worth the occasional airing. The Duetto second movement is a gentle gem.
The remainder of the disc deploys vintage 2000 recordings of chamber works. Tolinsky steers us through the composer’s move towards greater harmonic astringency and psychological complexity. Bach’s presence is obscured only by some gentle Schoenbergian mists. These are tougher aggravating little sketches.
The Sonata is a work of wartime Europe. In it the composer runs on a neo-Baroque leash into frank romance. However he wanders not all that far from the patterned path of Baroque grandeur – indeed, as in the concerto, there is a colossal Handelian aspect to the invention. The themes are of generous amplitude across its fifteen minute (two movement) span.
While the Trio is full of activity and the artistry of the performers is never in doubt the work, which must be fun to play, does not register very deeply.
The two movement Piano Quartet received a make-over in 1971 though its 1937 vitality has not been drained. Overall it is the most memorable work here. Its almost Gallic melos cannot disguise homage to Bachian structures but does soften their inclination towards unrelenting mechanical action. The clarinet and cello lend a beguiling ‘dressing’ to this florid fantasia. It is in this work that Müller-Zürich liberates himself from the not always benign rule of Johan Sebastian and he does this in a way promised by the opening of the sonata but not fully delivered later. This work is tender – the most human of all the pieces to be heard here. It is closer to John Ireland, and late Fauré than to the Gothic megaliths of Bach and Handel.
Our reliable guide is Chris Walton, best known for his still largely unrecognised work for the music of Othmar Schoeck. Walton sketches in the key details but I would have liked more including a worklist.
American Record Guide January / February 2001
In May/June (p 230) we reviewed a two-violin concerto by this composer and suggested that the disc was worth having just for that. The viola concerto recorded here confirms that judgement. Here is an excellent composer whose music sounds “modern” enough but never obnoxious-and still beautiful. I really like this viola concerto, and I honestly think violists should take it up and play lt. (How very little they have that’s worth listening to!)
The piano pieces are also very pleasant. This composer had more of a gift of melody than one would expect of someone who lived to 1993. The violin sonata is as good as most written in this century. The quartet is a busy work; I am sure that piano, clarinet, violin, and cello is just too much. How many prima donnas can you have? Three of the four instruments are used to dominating whatever they play in. Together they produce some chaotic moments. Not a great combination.
The basset-horn is not a favourite instrument, but the musical language has not changed in the trio (with viola and cello), the latest work here. It has its moments; it is not frivolous.
There are some oddities here. Although this is an English label, the Viola Concerto in F minor is wrongly listed as “f minor”, repeatedly (except on the front cover). Americans are often insecure enough to follow the Germans in the lowercase F-wrong though it is in English-but one assumes educated Englishmen know better. Also, the orchestra listed here doesn’t exist, according to the notes. But their recording sounds absolutely up-to-date. So who did the recording of the viola concerto? On the last page of the booklet (after all the German and French notes) we find out that it was recorded in 1963, when the orchestra did exist-60 musicians from Swiss radio orchestras. And, finally, Paul Müller was from Zurich, and it seems quite clear that he added the name of the city to his name at some point. Are some of his works published under “Müller”? An explanation would have been helpful, especially since the notes refer to him both ways.
But the sound and the performances are excellent (mostly English musicians in 2000), and we are reminded that Swiss composers were still writing attractive music while their German neighbours were beating us with abstract dissonances. Good music continued off the beaten path; it may not have made headlines or had the shock value of the music that did, but it will outlast the infamous tortures of the “avant-gardists”. (What were they the avant” of?) Of the works heard here, the viola concerto is from 1934, the piano pieces from earlier yet, the quartet 1937. The violin sonata is from 1941, and the trio (also called the Serenata Turicensis) is from 1981. Müller never wavered from tonality; he never got terribly profound, either. But music need not be profound. Certainly it need not be full of anguish and groaning. This is cheerful stuff.
International Record Review January 2001
Paul Müller-Zürich (1898-1993) was a leading, figure in Swiss musical life during his long lifetime: one of those many gifted Swiss composers whose music has somehow never managed to travel much outside their native country, however receptive they themselves may have been to contemporary developments in the rest of Europe. But perhaps his stock may be posthumously on the rise. In the early 1990s Jecklin also released two discs, both containing the Consenso and two Sinfoniettas. Last year Guild (which seems to be developing a fruitful line in Swiss repertoire) issued some motets and a fine organ Passacaglia on an excellent disc of Swiss religious works performed by, the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, while Musikszene Schweiz has recently brought out a recordingg of Müller-Zürich’s
Concerto for two violins, harpsichord and strings coupled with concertante works by his contemporaries Hans Schaeuble and Hugo Pfister. The second also contains six flute sonatas by another Swiss composer, Kaspar Fritz The disc under review now must, I suppose, be only the second all-Müller-Zürich CD in history.
He’s certainly worth it. If, groping for a Comparison, I say he seems something like a Swiss Alan Rawsthorne,I don’t merely mean to suggest that this is music of fine craftsmanship, masterly counterpoint, economic dimensions, rather laconic on the emotional side, and imbued with a profound but never arid neo-Classical impulse. I also allude to the fact that a lot of mid-century Swiss music, in my experience, seems to have a community of expression with the British music of the same period, and should definitely appeal to collectors of, say, Rawsthorne, Rubbra, Walton or Vaughan Williams. Why this should be I’m at a loss to say, unless there are unsuspected parallels in the national Temperaments.
Like Rawsthome or Arnold Cooke, Müller-Zürich was clearly influenced by the music of Hindemith, and his trim, busy, deftly scored Concerto for viola and small orchestra is superficially very like one of Hindemith’s Kammermusik concertos. But it contrives to keep an individual stance: the ‘Alla giga’ finale has a French accent, and one of the other movements is a brilliantly inventive passacaglia on a haunting ground curiously reminiscent of Dido’s Lament in Dido and Aeneas. Chris Walton’s brief but informative note says this is the second movement, but it’s played third in this performance: either the annotator made a slip or the composer subsequently revised the ordering, for the recording — its precise provenance, whether disc or broadcast, undisclosed – dates back to 1963. Though the sound is slightly
pinched compared to present-day standards, it’s entirely acceptable. Gerhard Weiser is an excellent soloist.
The rest of the programme, in beautifully clear sound and performed by first-rate British players, opens out the view of Müller-Zürich in what seem to be highly idiomatic and sympathetic performances. The early set of piano pieces already shows an initially Romantic impulse, somewhat in the manner of Othmar Schoeck, turning towards imitations of the Baroque and a detached, ironic stance. The Quartet for violin, clarinet, cello and piano (1937) and the Violin Sonata (1941) are perhaps the strongest works here: their basically neo-Classical stance is continually enriched by the sheer wealth of musical invention that Müller-Zürich brings to bear on his chosen forms, never allowing them to become merely formulaic. Both works are in an unconventional two-movement shape: in the Quartet the second movement is a brilliant tarantella-like piece combining the functions of scherzo and finale, while in the Sonata it is an unusually searching and affecting set of variations. Even the late Trio for the unusual combination of basset-horn (superbly played here by Alan Hacker), viola and cello, although formally a serenade, impresses by its energy and wit, with sly allusions to jazz and blues harmony combining intriguingly with the rustic tones of the basset-horn. Altogether a diverting disc – another welcome reminder that there’s more to Swiss music than Schoeck, Martin and Holliger.