GMCD 7189 – The Eye of the Storm – Feruccio Busoni’s Zurich friends and disciples

The Ceruti Quartet – Oliver Lewis & Pan Hon Lee – Violins, Miranda Davis – Viola, Oliver Gledhill – Cello, Andrew Zolinsky – Piano

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American Record Guide November / December 2000

Zurich became a European artist center during World War I. Ferruccio Buson! settled there and with him a large circle of composers. It is from this group that this recital is drawn.It opens with a spectacular transcription by Busoni of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz. Czesiaw Marek was Polish born but sought refuge in Zurich during the War. He became a friend of Busoni’s and sought advice from him regularly. Two miniatures that aren’t otherwise recorded are included here.

Philipp Jarnach is represented here by Christ on Olympus for string quartet. The notes don’t further identify him or his connection to Busoni. Emil Frey is peripheral in his relationship to Busoni. He had studied in Paris with Faure and Widor before moving to Berlin as a concert pianist. He spent some time in Moscow before returning to Zurich. His Fantasy on 0 Haupt voll Blut und Wunden is a fascinating work.

Marcel HS Sulzberger is enigmatic. Born in Frankfurt to Swiss parents, he eventually ,moved to Paris for a time. He invented and lied about himself so much that little can be trusted. He was the first Swiss (1907) to abandon tonality, and much of his music is very advanced for his time. His 1919 Violin Sonata was performed but once, in 1924; yet it is remarkable, for it swings between the styles of Faure and the Second Viennese School. I must admit that I don’t find it particularly attractive.

Othmar Schoeck is fairly well known today. He and Btjsoni developed great respect for one another despite their obvious differences. His two short works here are not really definitive.

Hans Jelmoli was born into a well-to-do Zurich family. He trained in Frankfurt but returned to Zurich after a few years and freelanced for the rest of his life. He and Busoni held each other in healthy respect. Certainly his baroque variations are inventively written.

Only four works here can be considered truly important: the Busoni-Liszt, the Frey, the Sulzberger, and the Jelmoli. Performances seem good and the recordings, made in a small studio, are fine.


This fascinatingly planned programme showcases the Swiss composers who came within Busoni’s orbit during his self-imposed Zürich exile during World War I, and were all affected by the experience. Only Othmar Schoeck, Philipp Jarnach (who completed Busoni’s Faust) and the recently revalued Czeslaw Marek (subject of an eight-CD Koch series), the only name likely to be at all familiar, are represented by miniatures (some fascinating ones nonetheless, including a delicately minimalist dance-number from Schoeck’s opera Das Wandbild, with libretto by Busoni).

The more substantial items are Emil Frey’s big Bach fantasia, more Lisztian than Busonian; Hans Jelmoli’s Rameau Variations, clearly indebted to Busoni’s reworkings of Baroque originals; and most remarkable of all Marcel Sulzberger’s Violin Sonata. Busoni generously encouraged Sulzberger, but this extraordinary piece moves in a passionate trajectory of its own, from Fauré via Decaux to Scriabin and even Schoenberg. Not surprisingly it was entirely too avant-garde for ist time and place (Zürich, 1919) and apparently had only one performance (Paris, 1924) before the present recording. It was well worth resurrecting – as, to a lesser degree, is everything else here. The performers sound sympathetic and entirely at ease with this unfamiliar music; Andrew Zolinksy’s fine account of Busoni’s recension of Liszt’s first Mephisto Waltz is another compelling reason to buy this beautifully recorded disc.
Calum MacDonald




Frey Fantasy on the Chorale ‘0 Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’a. Jarnach Christ on Olyrnpus – Prelude for String Quartetb. Jelmoli Variations on an Aria from the opera ‘Platée’ by Rarneauad. Liszt (arr. Busoni) Mephisto Waltza. Marek Chant du nouvel anb. Choralec. Schoeck Das Wandbild – The Mechanical Clocka. Scherzo for String Triode. Sulzberger Sonata for Violin and Pianoad.

The unifying thread of this programme is the circle of friends and pupils around Busoni when he was in exile in Zurich during the First World War (he refused to live or play in any of the belligerent countries). The source of all the material is the holdings of the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich – ‘the largest collection of musical manuscripts in Switzerland’, as Christopher Walton’s booklet essay proudly announces.

Some of the names are familiar. Busoni himself wrote the libretto for Othmar Schoeck’s opera Das Wandbild (1918), represented here by a brief and elliptical instrumental excerpt; there’s also the gentle Scherzo for string trio, his only essay in the medium. I complained in my review in the August issue (page 64) of the final instalment of Koch’s eight-disc traversal of the music of Czeslaw Marek (1891-1985) that it omits the Chant du nouvel an and the Chorale for organ – and here they are, slight in substance but digmified in manner.

Philipp Jarnach (1892-1982) is best remembered these days as the man who completed Busoni’s Doktor Faust, but there have been stirrings on Jamach’s own behalf recently, most substantially Stefan Weiss’s Die Musik Philipp Jarnach (Verlag Dohr: Cologne; 1996); and last year a disc devoted entirely to jarnach’s music was released by Divox. jarnach’s music can be harmonically oblique; this two-minute prelude for string quartet, Christ on Olyrnpus, is as soothing as a Christmas carol.

The names that were entirely new to me are those of Marcel H. S. Sulzberger (1876- 1941) and Hans Jelmoli (1877-1936); I had come across references to Emil Frey (1889- 1946) but wasn’t familiar with any of his music. Sulzberger seems to have been way ahead of his time, particularly when compared to his Swiss contemporaries: his Violin Sonata (1919) has its point of departure in French music but then skirts atonality – imagine Fauré in Schoenberg’s Vienna.

Jelmoli’s Rameau Variations (c1918) are tonally orthodox but beautifully crafted: they would make an appealing addition to a recital programme. The real discovery here is Frey’s Fantasy on ‘0 Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’, a quiet masterpiece. The model is plainly Busoni’s Fantasy after J. S. Bach (1909), and the intellectualised, sublimated passion of the language lies very close to Busorii’s. Frey’s handling of the chorale is subtle, understated: after an extended introduction, it emerges through the dark textures, picked out near the top of the counterpoint, and then disappears back into them, informing the contours of the music rather than directing them – John Ogdon would have loved this piece. Frey, plainly, is a man who deserves much deeper investigation – there’s a respectable amount of orchestral music, for example, in holdings spread between the Zurich Zentralbibliothek and the University of Basel. If this recording alerts some young scholar to the presence of a rewarding Ph.D. subject and directs other musicians to a master-in- waiting, it will have done an immense amount of good.

All these works are given reliable, sympathetic performances from the young musicians involved, most of them British, in first-rate recorded sound; Andrew Zolinsky’s account of the Frey Fantasy is particularly

fine. Walton’s useful notes give thumbnail sketches of all the composers, and their careers; and the cover design is elegant and attractive This is an endlessly disc and it deserves your close attention.
Martin Anderson