Reviews

GHCD 2351 – Fritz Brun dirigiert Fritz Brun

Studio-Orchester Beromünster, Fritz Brun – conductor

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TEMPO 12/2010

The year 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Fritz Brun’s death in his native Switzerland. It’s good to ave a recording of one of his ten symphonies conducted by the composer, as well as first recordings of two further works in Adriano’s orchestral cycle for Guild. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the Fifth Symphony under his baton is highly impressive. Distinct echoes of Beethoven and Brahms, often present in the earlier symphonies, are again in evidence: Brun himself mentioned a preparatory study of Beethoven to Hermann Scherchen. Apart from a double bassoon and bass tuba, the orchestra doesn’t exceed classical dimensions. The first movement takes the form of a chaconne, one of whose variations provides the subject of a skittish second-movement nocturne. This is succeeded by a funeral march, an eloquent lament for Brun’s deceased colleague Hermann Suter. In his final movement, the composer vents his spleen over Suter’s fate. Headed Rasch und wütend (‘fast and furious’), the finale begins fugally and weaves further variations on the work’s initial theme. A long time ago Brun’s opening chaconne – it could easily be taken for a closing movement – appeared on a recording under Schoenberg’s Swiss pupil Erich Schmid. Brun regarded his Fifth as a personal response to the break-up of classical tonality, one that was orientated towards Stravinsky rather than Schoenberg. Deep down, however, the neo-Romantic language is unmistakably his own, and the chaconne seems more original every time I hear it. The solo oboe, horn, violin and cello execute their solo variations with finesse. Fritz Brun’s sunnier side emerges from the Tenth Symphony, which was completed by the shores of Lake Lugano in 1953 (the date is inadvertently transposed on the back of the CD case). Like the Second Symphony of 1909, but in a more compressed form, it recalls the exuberance of Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony in the same key.
Rhapsodic in spirit, the third-movement Adagio shows Brun’s variation technique at its most imaginative. Again the performance as a whole underlines his creative stature, long obscured by his native reputation as a conductor in Berne. He appears as conductor of his own music on a remastering of a rather cavernous 1946 radio recording preserved in the Zurich Central Library. The Eighth Symphony is one of Brun’s most expansive works, recalling his abiding fondness for Bruckner in that respect. While carrying a programme describing the times of day, the symphony adheres to a traditional movement-order, starting with the activity of high noon and ending with a new day. The enchanted second movement derives from a Bernese folk song addressed to Hesperus, the evening star. Then Brun conjures a nocturnal landscape, less agitated than his Fifth Symphony’s Berliozian visions. Throughout the work, the rhythmic and harmonic invention is considerable. The Eighth Symphony has been coupled by Guild with Paul Sacher’s 1946 recording of another fine late work, Variations on an Original Theme. Whereas the Tenth Symphony features concerto grosso-like writing for wind instruments, here a similar technique is applied to the strings. Lyrical nostalgia is the dominant impression, but the solo piano (Brun’s own instrument) maintains a vital pulse. Fritz Brun had to be a Sommerkomponist for much of his life. His output did, however, grow steadily, unlike that of his contemporary Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Peter Palmer

Schweizer Musikzeitung Februar 2010

Die Schatten der romantischen Vergangenheit
Fritz Brun dirigiert Fritz Brun: Sinfonie Nr. 8 in A-Dur. Studio­Orchester Beromünster. Variationen überein eigenes Thema für Streichorchester und Klavier. Adrian Aeschbacher, Klavier Collegium Musicum Zürich, Leitung Pau( Sacher. Guild historical GHCD 2351
Fritz Brun (1878-1959) gehört wie Othmar Schoeck und Volkmar Andreae zu einer Generation, die in einer der Romantik längst entwachsenen Welt ihr Leben lang den Spagat üben musste zwischen der Sehnsucht nach dem Unwiederbringlichen und der unabweisbaren Notwendigkeit, für die Gegenwart offen zu sein. Zugleich fiel ihm und seinen Zeitgenossen die Aufgabe zu, die Stellung eines Schweizer Musikers gegenüber Deutschland und seinen Traditionen neu zu definieren. Man kann so die vorliegenden, qualitativ ziemlich unterschiedlichen Aufnahmen ohne Weiteres auch als historische Dokumente in einem allgemeinen Sinn verstehen.
Fritz Brun ist oft der Vorwurf gemacht worden, Brahms-Epigone zu sein, und tatsächlich finden sich in seiner Sinfonie in A-Dur vor allem in den Eck sätzen direkte Anklänge an den verehrten Meister aus Hamburg. Unüberhörbar sind die oktavverdoppelten Terzgänge, die «dicke» Akkordik und auch die zentrale Bedeutung des Hörnerklangs. In den formal freieren Mittelsätzen, wo es nicht darum geht, einem symphonisich dann aber ein sehr origineller Geist: Man staunt über die Farbphantasie des Luzerner Musikers. Im 3. Satz (Notturno), der mit einem wunderlich gespielten Bassklarinetten-Solo beginnt, sind die Schatten der deutsch-romantischen Vergangenheit ganz fern. Das Studio-Orchester Beromünster erweist sich in dieser vom Komponisten geleiteten Aufnahme aus dem Jahr 1946 – bei allem Verständnis für Individualität – als beinahe anarchischer Klangkörper. Hermann Scherchens Versuch, mit wenigen verstärkten Violinen einen symphonischen Klang zu erzeugen, ist in diesem Fall gescheitert. Auffällig am Dirigat des Komponisten ist auch die Atem- und Rastlosigkeit im Kopfsatz. Sie kontrastiert scharf mit der Seelenruhe, mit welcher Paul Sacher die Variationen über ein eigenes Thema für Klavier und Streichorchester angeht. Das Collegium Musicum Zürich besticht bei dieser Aufnahme (ebenfalls von 1946) durch einen enorm kultivierten Streicherklang. Adrian Aeschbacher am Klavier zeigt, dass seine Berühmtheit in der Kriegs- und Nachkriegszeit nicht nur den «sündigen» Auftritten in Nazi-Deutschland und seiner Freundschaft mit Karajan zu verdanken war. Kompositorisch wirken die Variationen erstaunlich konventionell.
Den Aufnahmen ist ein Ausschnitt der unbearbeiteten Schellackplatte beigefügt. Dabei kann man feststellen, dass das Original-Hörbild durch das Remastering nicht verfälscht, sondern nur verdeutlicht wurde.
In Laufe der letzten Jahre hat das Moscow Symphony Orchestra unter der Leitung von Adriano Bruns 3., 5., 9. und 10. Symphonie eingespielt.
Michael Kühn


Tages Anzeiger Samstag 06. Juni .2009

Zehn Sinfonien hat er komponiert. Kaum mehr werden sie noch aufgeführt, und es wäre illusorisch, ihnen eine glorreiche Konzertzukunft voraussagen zu wollen. Die Werke des Luzerners Fritz Brun (1878-1959) sind freilich aus helvetischer Sicht doch von grossem Interesse: Er war eine ungewöhnliche Persönlichkeit, kurze Zeit als Hofmusiker von Preussen tätig, von Ferruccio Busoni gefördert, später über mehr als drei Jahrzehnte als Generalmusikdirektor bei der Bernischen Musikgesellschaft tätig und allein dadurch wichtig.
Seine Musik orientiert sich an der deutsch – romantischen Tradition, ist kaum modern, gleichsam zu spät gekommen und auch nicht überall gleichermassen dicht durchgestaltet; sie überrascht aber immer wieder durch ihre schroffe Kraft, ihre urvitale Rhythmik, ihre Direktheit.
Das wird schon in der 5. Sinfonie deutlich, die der unermüdlich entdeckende Dirigent Adriano nun mit den Moskauer Sinfonikern neu aufgenommen hat (nach zwei CDs mit der 3. und 9; die 6. soll demnächst folgen). Das Werk von 1929 ist dunkel und herb, neigt zum Fantastischen und entwickelt dabei eine eigentümliche Intensität. Es wurde nach der Uraufführung in der Tonhalle 1930 von zwei weiteren grossen Schweizer Orchestern innert zweier Monate aufgeführt – das müsste einem Schweizer Komponisten heute mal passieren!
Die letzte, die 10. Sinfonie von 1953, wirkt daneben gelassener, manchmal etwas weniger stringent, aber frisch. Noch unmittelbarer spürbar wird die Energie dieses Sinfonikers allerdings in seiner eigenen Interpretation: 1946 nahm Brun mit dem Studio-Orchester Beromünster seine 8. Sinfonie auf, in der er unter anderem ein altes Berner Volkslied verarbeitet. Das Werk, entstand 1942 kurz nach dem Rückzug aus dem öffentlichen Leben, erzählt keineswegs von einem Rückzug. Von Beginn an überrumpelt es einen – ” mit seiner Heftigkeit und seinem Impetus, dann aber wieder durch liebevolle lyrische Momente. So soll er gewesen sein: Fritz Brun, schroff und dann wieder freundlich. Vielleicht müsste man diese Musik doch mal wieder im Konzertsaal ausprobieren.
Thomas Meyer

MusicWeb International Tuesday April 14 2009

Fritz Brun was a pianist, composer and conductor – in my own limited experience, before the arrival of this disc, I’d only encountered his name before in the last capacity. He was born in Lucerne in 1878 and studied piano and music theory with a disparate group of musicians, among them Willem Mengelberg. In 1897 he began studies in Cologne where he made a lifelong friend in Zurich-born Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962). From Cologne he moved to Berlin and from 1903 he worked as a piano teacher in Berne, later becoming more prominent as an orchestral and choral conductor. By 1941 he was devoting himself entirely to composition.
He’s reckoned to be one of the leading Swiss composers of the time, alongside his old friend Andreae, Hermann Suter (1870-1926) and Schoeck (1886-1957). The last comparison is, on this evidence, very misleading. Brun’s muse was oriented strongly towards Bruckner and the Eighth Symphony, written in 1942, and heard in a performance directed by the composer in 1946, is a heavyweight contribution to the symphonic literature of his time.
Classically conceived and with a programmatic and narrative thread – the four movements correspond to four times during the day – this is an example of ardent assimilation of Brucknerian models. The opening (midday) starts with fanfare elements, a vibrancy but also a certain stridency of utterance as well, one that thins to lightly-grained orchestration for more intimate material. It’s notable that Brun avoids starting with dawn, thus offering a somewhat more skewed and non-linear approach to his material, one that gives one the chance to begin with vital energy rather than drowsy awakening. The slow movement is based on a folksong and is again bathed in Bruckner – sectional, lyric but not in the last resort especially distinctive though once more orchestrated with skill. The horns are certainly burnished. The third movement, heard as if ‘by lamplight’, is warmly textured – the bass clarinet prominent – and the wind section offers other wispy, insect pleasures in the alfresco evening. The finale begins with murky quasi-impressionist refraction before some perky Straussian elements and lyric curlicues enliven proceedings. The pacing is canny, the sturdy march themes sinewy.
The companion work is the Variations on an original theme for piano and string orchestra, written two years later and performed here by Adrian Aeschbacher (piano) with the Collegium Musicum Zurich under Paul Sacher in 1946. This is necessarily a more concise work, one that seems to pay homage to the memory of the Siegfried Idyll, and maybe also, sideways, to Frank Martin.  Aeschbacher, who is perhaps best remembered on record for his collaboration with Furtwängler (and van Kempen) in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, plays with authority and control. It’s a work strong on internal dynamic contrasts, on clever moments of chamber intimacy, on easeful reflection and subtle conjunctions of orchestral voicings.
The recording is a bit boxy but a pre-edited fragment from the original 78 is included to show one how the engineers have worked on the source material to its strong advantage. The Symphony has a rather muddy sound but it’s perfectly serviceable for its vintage. There are helpful notes in German and English.
Jonathan Woolf

AudioPhile Audition Saturday February 21 2009

Fritz Brun (1878-1959) has a limited reputation as a Swiss composer, pianist, and conductor who had the benefit of studies with Busoni and Nikisch. With the help of conductor Volkmar Andreae, Brun secured a conductorship at Berne, which he maintained for three decades until 1941, when Brun retired to devote himself exclusively to composition. He wrote ten symphonies between 1901-1953, and his personal syntax is tonal, albeit influenced by Schoeck and Honegger. The Eighth Symphony on this disc (4 October 1946) is performed by the composer with an ensemble often associated with another musical visionary, Hermann Scherchen.
The A Major Symphony (1942) has a kind of program in sonata-form, as each of the four movements suggests a period of a twenty-four-hour day: the Allegro vivace, midday; the Andante, based on an old Bernese folksong, evening; the Notturno, a late-night, lunar landscape; and the Allegro non troppo, the cheerful morning. Whether the opening violence of the first movement’s main theme carries any impression of the World War is anyone’s guess. The brooding second subject gloomily moves with dark energies we hear in some Bartok and Franz Schmidt. The heavy periods hint at Bruckner’s influence. Brun claims the movement captures “the vibrant bustle of a town.” Whether this makes Brun’s A Major Symphony the modern Swiss counterpart of Vaughan Williams’ “London” Symphony remains a matter of taste. Various trumpet declarations imbue a heraldic character to the music that softens temporarily; the varied mix of turbulent emotions in rather brassy, chromatic colors has a lurid relation to the music of Nielsen.The last notes of the coda sound like Berlioz’ Rakoczy March.
The second movement Brun derives from an old folksong, “Schoenster Abestaern,” most-lovely evening star. Of Brucknerian length and sectionalized along that same composer’s “tape worm” (Brun’s phrase) or “boa constrictor” (Brahms’ term) principles, the melodic tissue becomes increasingly stratified, with that “Wagner horn” sound we know of Bruckner, soon followed by broken riffs of laendler. The music intensifies as it becomes more episodic, the musical threads alternately anguished, strident, nostalgic–and to my ears, somewhat random. Nineteen minutes of ersatz Bruckner adagio make me testy. The Notturno finds its inspiration in a painting by Ernst Morgenthaler, a lunar vision from a terrace, with friends drinking in both wine and a vision of the Milky Way. Some jazzy timbres make their way into this brew, shades of Richard Strauss, with bass clarinet, flute, con sordino strings. A Mediterranean spirit reigns in the form of sighs, warbles, and breezy riffs that hint at Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde. The clarion last movement proceeds, over a thumping tympani and bass pedal with serpentine themes, “to bring in the morning. . .the musician’s workshop. . .the kind and benevolent Tessin sun.” Grofe did all this in fewer notes for the Grand Canyon Suite! So, another verbose Brucknerian ride may find some auditors nodding off.  The last two minutes attempt a wake-up call, a march in a lighter–or at least Richard Strauss-lighter style. A cross between Ein Heldenleben and An Alpine Symphony, Brun’s A Major, despite its apparent sincerity, is too derivative of Bruckner to warrant my return to its sentiments.
The 1944 Variations (rec. 25 January 1946) with Adrian Aeschbacher (1912-2002) and Paul Sacher (1906-1999) prove more direct and compelling than the Symphony. The original theme is followed by eight variations of varying densities and tonal coloration. The spirit of Franz Schmidt seems nigh, as well as the darkly modal contours we associate with Frank Martin, whose work Paul Sacher both commissioned and championed. Aeschbacher’s gracious palette does much to sell the concertante part, while the Zurich strings make their own points, often leading the progression of motifs. The individual variants are quite terse, a pleasant trait after the prolix symphony. Variation VI caught my ear, likely due to its sounding like Schumann by way of bravura Bartok. The longest of the variations is marked Largo (espessivo), two-thirds of which is pure string serenade; the piano adds a dry recitative then a few, disparate, major-key arpeggios to a viola and violin duo. The last variant smacks of the Prokofiev C Major Concerto finale, only smaller-scale; it proceeds to some modal riffs and runs that culminate in a syncopated chorale.
Note: a bonus track gives us the 78 rpm shellac Variation VIII in its un-edited, pre-remastered form, just to show off what modern, digital processing can accomplish.
Gary Lemco