GMCD 7372 – Fritz Brun – Symphony No. 6 & 7
Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Adriano (conductor)
American Record Guide – July 2012
If you enjoy the Brahms Fourth, especially the finale, Fritz Brun (1878-1959) is the composer for you, his music having comparable emotional depth and intellectual rigor. If he were English, there’d be a Fritz Brun Society; if German, we’d have a scholarly edition of his scores. Alas, he was Swiss, an artistic limbo I’ve depicted earlier (July/Aug 2009).
Brun described his Symphony 6 (1933) as “an unruly piece” signifying “the casting off of a strange and hostile personal influence in my life”. I, a prelude, has a dirge-like chorale over a pedal note, alternating with ethereal pages. The music at first seems willfully disjunct. II is a demonic scherzo—the hostile influence? Like any composer with a consummate grasp of tonality and form, Brun knows just how closely to push both to their margins. Though it has some animated episodes, III is generally calmer. IV is a passacaglia with 32 variations over its ground bass. The variations at first blend fluently, but as the movement progresses, they become fiendishly intricate. Brun proves that sturdy old bottles can hold the most sophisticated new vintage. The close, a variation of the chorale from I, is savagely triumphant, the hostile influence plainly routed.
The composer characterized Symphony 7 (1937) as more relaxed and fluent. I is a prolonged meditation, with interwoven solos, on a theme from Othmar Schoeck’s radiant opera Venus. II begins with a variant on the Venus theme and a main section recalling a goodnatured, boisterous Brahms. III is an intermezzo with fine woodwind writing. IV uses further variations on the Venus theme. It’s an optimistic movement, but at 16 minutes, too long. The conclusion recalls themes from the other movements. The brass fanfares of its final peroration sound staggered, owing to Brun’s quirky syncopation.
Both performances and sound are excellent. Adriano’s interpretations balance Brun’s emotional and cerebral facets, thus making the music more approachable. His program notes are also highly informative. The Swiss musicologyist Willi Schuh described Brun’s music as “knotty and reserved at first hearing”. True enough, but it’s worth the effort.
Musik & Theater – April 2012
Unter den Schweizer Komponisten der Romantik war er, mit zehn Beiträgen, der eigentliche Sinfoniker: Fritz Brun (1878-1959), geboren in Luzern, ausgebildet in Köln, später in Bern fast vier Jahrzehnte lang der Musikherrscher. Was ist das Helvetische an ihm? Das Unzeitgemässe? Das Sperrige? Jedenfalls sind die Sinfonien 6 und 7 seit Jahrzehnten nicht mehr erklungen – bis sie jetzt der bekennende Brun-Fan Adriano auf CD gebannt hat. Die Benennung von Brun als «schweizerischem Sibelius» ist zwar nicht ganz falsch, schiebt ihn freilich in der Einschätzung wohl doch etwas zu hoch. Mit leisem Erstaunen liest man den Ausspruch des einstigen NZZ-Kritikers Willi Schuh vom «geistigen Mass» dieser Musik. Weil sie sich dem Schönklang verweigert und lieber dem «Nachklang» (so nennt sich kaum zufällig der Kopfsatz der Siebenten) von Brahms und Bruckner vertraut? Der Zürcher Dirigent Adriano hat sich in letzter Zeit verschiedentlich auf Fritz Brun eingelassen. Er kämpft im Wort (ausführliche, sachkundige Einführung im CD-Heft) und in der Tat (mit dem bereitwilligen Moskauer Sinfonieorchester) für den fast vergessenen Komponisten. Seine Interpretation unterstreicht vorab die eigenbrötlerischen, ja grimmig-trotzigen Züge in Bruns Tonsprache – als hege er eine gewisse Scheu vor den lyrischen, gelegentlich auch süsslichen Passagen. Alles zielt auf Kraftentladungen in den Finali, in der Passacaglia der Sechsten wie im blechschmetternden Choral der Siebenten.
MusicWeb International – Spring 2012
An excellent disc, this presents the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies of the all-too-little-known Swiss composer Fritz Brun. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra perform under the astute baton of Adriano. The conductor is known by his first name only. As an aside, for those interested, do let me direct you to Rob Barnett’s fascinating interview with him.
The Sixth Symphony opens the disc. Composed in 1933, it is a work of almost schizophrenic contrasts, atonal and bi-tonal elements set against music whose harmonic language is rooted in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries. Its inclusion adeptly complements the choice of Edvard Munch as the artist of the disc’s cover painting. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra project the acerbity of the Symphony well, without losing any of the more lyrical elements.
Although the Seventh Symphony is more immediately accessible, it has greater impact following an awareness of the more acidic, “knottier” idiom of the Sixth Symphony. The language is very striking: an harmonic landscape often akin to Brahms but with a deportment of instrumental forces that is reminiscent of Bruckner in terms of “blocks” of instruments. The Symphony has a strongly motivic basis that demands translucency of texture – exactly what is achieved here by Adriano and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra: rich and focused sound, yet never overly dense. The brass, in particular, play with a lyrical emphasis and warmth that is refreshing, especially in the Allegro fourth movement, where they are used sparingly and the sound is well balanced and clear, though never aggressive.
The booklet notes, written by the conductor himself, are thoughtful and thorough both in terms of biographical information about Fritz Brun and also on the works featured. The entire disc is well-presented. This is a desirable CD, and one that I hope that will prompt other listeners, as it has me, to explore further the intriguing world of Fritz Brun.
MusicWeb International – Automn 2011
Fritz Brun shared broadly the same dates as Sibelius and Vaughan Williams. That places him in time. As for the music, its genetic fibre is tonal and melts at times, and without violence, into a subtle early Schoenbergian dissonance. This is music that carries strong traces of Schubert and Brahms – the latter especially in No. 7 but adds the spice of dissonance – the patina of Franz Schmidt and Max Reger.
This Swiss composer has found an exemplary champion in Adriano. This composer-conductor has evangelised for the meritorious neglected from the outset when he recorded Respighi and European film music for Marco Polo. He clearly holds a torch for Brun’s ten symphonies. Recorded for Guild are symphonies 5 and 10 (GMCD 7320) and 9 and the Job tone poem (GMCD 7306).
The Sixth embraces the long singing line but peppers it with grim Mussorgskian dances and mixes in the Franz Schmidt of the Husarenlied Variations. If Brun has a tendency to Regerian severity – he too wrote a Symphonic Prologue – it is easily forgivable. Another voice stands out in the melos and that is a divertimento spirit reminiscent of the Brahms Haydn Variations. The finale seems troubled by devils of angular conflict even if they are appeased by the emollient of consolatory melody amid the gawky Mussorgskian progress. The 1939 Seventh is extremely and instantly impressive. The Schoeck melodic gift, the acrid poignancy of Schmidt, a tinge of Elgarian melancholia and even a Hollywood lushness – they all meet in a work that pulls no emotional punches. It might be thought of as a sort of relaxed counterpart to Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony without quite the same caustic tragedy. It’s intensely fine – very touching, roundedly lyrical, affectionate and affecting. Quite a discovery.
The extensive notes are by the conductor, as edited by Ian Lace who shares Adriano’s advocacy for the rarer Respighi and has been a leading light in the musical world since the 1970s. He has been and continues to be a leading light in this site and was so from our earliest days.
On this showing I hope it will not be long before we hear Brun’s four string quartets (1898, 1921, 1943, 1949), cello sonata (1952), a piano quintet (1902), two violin sonatas (1920, 1951), concertos, one each for cello (1947) and for piano (1946).
For now let us keep our fingers crossed that Guild and Adriano will also turn to the other five symphonies, especially the Eighth.