GMCD 7142 – Swiss Romanticism I – Music by Otmar Schoeck

Paul Barrett – Violin, Catherine Edwards – Piano

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Classic CD – November 1998 Issue

CPO and Guild have very good news for admirers of the Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck. Famous for his affairs, his conservatism, and for providing employment for the banned composer Webern during World War 2 (Webern made vocal significant scores of his new operas), Schoeck’s music has a loyal band of adherents who understandably warm to his elegiac melodic style and highly evolved harmony.

The Guild disc, devoted to his violin and piano music, gives us first recordings of the youthful D major Sonata – an ardent and attractive piece – and the Albumblatt written for the lovely violinist Stefi Geyer (one of the few who didn’t consummate her relationship with the composer – they enjoyed but one kiss, her body being as if “covered with a coat of armour”, in Schoeck’s words). The early sonatas are written in Schoeck’s distinctive late- Romantic style with long chromatic melodies and rich chordal accompaniments. One might wish for a little more rhythmic variety, however. In the later work Schoeck has stretched tonal harmony much further as he grapples with neo classicism.

It is hard to imagine a violinist more suited to Schoeck than Paul Barritt. He has every nuance of the romantic style in his fingers, with properly moderated vibrato and a wide range of portamento. His tuning is mostly accurate, especially in the slow music (of which there is quite a lot), and he is well accompanied by Catherine Edwards. The recording is warm and virbant.
Simone Trezise

First class release of the twi-light Romantic world of Schoeck – an excellent introduction
Alternatives: None available

From Robert Barnett – June 1998

Schoeck’s chamber and orchestral music should not be missed by anyone who enjoys late romantic music of the twentieth century. His profound lyricism (he was dubbed ‘the Swiss Schubert’) is no doubt a legacy of his devotion to the human voice as are his eight operas (three of which have been recorded) and his more than 300 songs.
This issue upholds Guild’s high reputation in inspired choice of repertoire, artistic standards and technical excellence. Guild have previously issued very highly recommendable CDs of the two Goossens violin sonatas coupled with Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Ireland (Oliver Lewis/Jeremy Filsell). The sound is immediate and attractive. You feel as if you are seated three stalls back at the front of a small chamber concert hall.
Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards give insightful performances catching the many moods in these sonatas. Both will be known for their previous recordings on Hyperion of the Howells and Ireland sonatas (both worth exploring if you enjoy the Schoeck pieces).
The 1909 sonata (17’) is a flowing work of great charm and in the first of its three movements a great deal more. The first movement is a great lyrical outpouring without the congestion of sound which occasionally is to be found in works of high romanticism. The last two movements are perhaps rather conventional and Beethovenian but they are never less than enjoyable.
The 1931 sonata (21’) is tougher and full of invention. I must not give the impression that Schoeck abandons lyricism. He seems quite unable to do that, thank heavens. However the music seems sparer and more of the sinews show through. The music has a fresh singing quality but is somehow more knowing. No doubt the Great War had swept away some of the happier illusions and innocence. The two sonatas (1909, 1931) have been recorded previously (Jecklin LP?) by Ulrik Lehman and Charles Dobler though I do not recall seeing these on CD. In any event the sound on the Lehman is rather distanced though the performances are certainly sweet. Lehmann, by the way, had recorded the violin concerto and this was issued (coupled with the horn concerto) on the US Mace label during the 1970s. The recording on that LP was very upfront and oppressive.
Strangely enough the 1905 sonata (here receiving its world premiere recording) sounds to my ears more individual than the 1909 work. – certainly than its last two movements. The confidently mercurial flow of the music is remarkable. A fine discovery.
The superb notes are by Chris Walton whose book (currently in German only) on Schoeck is THE authority on this composer. Not so long ago I saw racks of Jecklin Schoeck CDs being sold off cheap in London. I wish I had trusted my judgement then and bought them. The (trilingual) notes have a rewarding density of detail as well as a light hand when it comes to the technicalities of the music. From these emerges the twin stories of Schoeck and the violinist with whom he fell passionately in love, Stefi Geyer (1888-1956). Geyer’s beauty is clear from the photo in the Guild booklet. Her spirit and Schoeck’s love for her are deeply entwined in the Op 16 work and in the final charming 2 minute Albumblatt. Neither Schoeck nor Bartók were to have any amorous success with Geyer. She married first a Swiss lawyer and later a an obscure Swiss composer Schulthess. Bartók dedicated his first violin concerto and the first of his Two Portraits to her and his passion for her is reflected in his first string quartet. Schoeck’s violin concerto is dedicated to her and she recorded it during World War 2 in Zurich. All the works on the Guild CD were played by her and the 1905 work, though written before Schoeck knew her, was premiered by her in its revised version in 1954.
The CD is entitled Swiss Romanticism I. I wonder what they have in store for the next volume? I do hope that there will be a German Romanticism series as well. I would like to nominate Joseph Marx’s Fruhlingssonate and the 50’ violin sonata in A major (1913) as candidates for a single CD.
This Schoeck CD is extremely valuable and desirable: music never less than enjoyable, performances sensitive; two world premieres; good sound and fine scholarly notes.

BBC Music Magazine April 1998

The Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck wrote little instrumental music. the bulk of his work consists of collections of Lieder, although several of his operas have been successfully revived, notably the one alt Penthesilea (1927), which invites comparison with Strauss’ Elektra.

The 1905 Violin Sonata Wo022 is a student piece, given its first recording on this likeable disc from violinist Paul Barritt and pianist Catherine Edwards. In the Sonata Op. 16, Schoeck’s lyricism and almost Gallic melodic ease are shored up by a more developed sense of form, perhaps deriving from the composer’s studies with Max Reger. The 1931 E major Sonata is comparatively spare and its understated Classicism suits the elegant and somewhat cool approach of Barritt and Edwards.

William Humphreys-Jones

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Gramophone April 1998

Although Schoeck is best known for his Lieder (of which there are over 300) and such powerful stage works as Penthesilea and Massimila Doni his instrumental output, including the string quartets, is gradually finding its way on to disc.

The present issue brings us the two violin sonatas of 1909 and 1931 together with an early essay in the medium from 1905, composed not long after Schoeck had begun his studies at the Zurich Conservatory. The D major Sonata. Op. 16, was composed at the height of his infatuation with Stefi Geyer who had inspired Bartók’s First Concerto and was to inspire Schoeck’s only Violin Concerto three years later. He dedicated both pieces to her, and the hitherto unrecorded and unpublished Albumblatt of 1908 also has a Geyer connection in that she and Schoeck took the piece on tour that year. The Op. 16 Sonata has something of the same generous and seemingly effortless lyrical outpouring that distinguishes the concerto.

The 1931 E major Sonata, Op. 46, comes from a different world and Dr Chris Walton, who contributes the authoritative notes, observes its kinship with the Notturno for baritone and string quartet which was soon to follow. It is the more recondite work but is at the same time far from inaccessible. Indeed its post-romantic yet restrained language, like late Fauré, at first hides the depths of feeling which surface so freely in the earlier pieces.

The violinist Paul Barritt is no stranger to CD, among other things he has recorded the Ireland and Howells sonatas with Catherine Edwards (Hyperion 11/96), and he proves no less eloquent and persuasive in Schoeck. Both artists play with sensitivity and imagination, and my only reservation concerns the recorded balance which does not give the performances quite enough room in which to expand. The sound is a bit unrelieved and upfront but there is no need seriously to qualify one’s welcome on this issue; it brings rare and valuable repertoire by this underrated master in dedicated and intelligent performances.

Review in Dissonanz – Die neue Schweizerische Musikzeitschrift Februar 1998

Violinklang von ferne bzw. im Grossformat

Ein Beispiel eines derart in die Breite gezogenen Violinklangs liefert die CD mit den drei Sonaten für Violine und Klavier – diesem “häuslichen” Genre grundsätzlich unangemessen und den Schoeck-Sonaten ganz besonders, weil die Violine hier (insbesondere in der 2. Sonate) weniger Soloinstrument als Teil eines polyphonen Gewebes ist.

Dass dessen übrige, im Klavier plazierte Linien vergleichsweise unprofiliert wirken, mag z.T. auch an der Pianistin Catherine Edwards liegen. Deren Spiel ist dabei grundsolide und gibt die Werke durchaus korrekt wider; dem Geiger Paul Barritt gelingt sogar etwas von jener Innigkeit, welche sich bei Stefi Geyer auch noch durch den Filter einer unzulänglichen Aufnahme mitteilt. Um ein “world premiere recording” – wie auf dem Cover betreff der frühen D-Dur-Sonate angegeben – handelt es sich freilich nicht; da sind Martin Gelland und Lennart Wallin dem englischen Duo zuvorgekommen – auf so unzulängliche Weise allerdings, dass diese Neuaufnahme keineswegs überflüssig erscheint.