GMCD 7382 – Hommage à R.S.

Claudia Sutter (piano), Leslie Leon (mezzo-soprano)

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American Record Guide March/April 2013

Born in 1919 in St Gallen, Robert Suter is another of those “independent spirits” who refused to label himself a member of any school of composition. Over the course of his lengthy career, he explored a great variety of genres, among them symphonic works, concertos, stage works, choral music, and, of course, solo and chamber pieces. The bulk of this release is taken up by his two suites for piano dating from 1943 and 1945 and a collection of seven songs written between three and four decades later. Were it not for Suter’s name linking these entries, you would hardly guess their common provenance; the suites are atonal and introspective, while the songs are tonal and theatrical. They are all fantastic.
Suter’s suites are of modest scope, but remain astounding in how well-crafted they are. I of the First Suite opens with a trill idea that evolves into a free melodic line that consistently employs a dotted 8th to 16th motive. It is highly reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Op. 11:1, but pleasantly so: in contrast it feels less angular and more through-composed. II is a mellow moderato conceived in two, sometimes three, voices that unhurriedly explore all ranges. The chords, though non-tertian, are consonant and gorgeous. III is a pinched minuet that opens in one voice; after a contrasting legato segment, the original staccato idea finds its way back in.
The profound simplicity of the whole-this is episodic composition at its best-now echoes a different 20th-Century master, Dallapiccola.
The Second Suite is comparable to the first in content and accessibility. High points include I, an allegro for two voices chasing each other in tight counterpoint; III, a glassy movement built of sliding chromatics; and IV, a breath-taking largo.
Before moving on to describe the songs, I must pause to note that much of the success of these works may be attributed to Sutter’s playing.
She has a particular gift for enlivening the simplest of gestures: a single, weaving melodic line in her hands quivers with life. Her chords are struck gently and released even more delicately.
There is a spot in IV of the Second Suite where she repeatedly strikes a high C with great power, and it digs into you without a trace of shrillness or edge, as if it were pure sound. Her allegro playing is not as outwardly extraordinary-and to be fair, the music is not written to sound virtuosic-except that it feels authoritative. Somehow, the faster sections, all populated by deep and darkly earnest tones, 166 March/April 2013 seem to carry Suter’s intentions (and maybe even his voice) in them.
In contrast with all this serious piano music, the German Songs are written more in the style of cabaret. Most of the poems are blackly comedic: one relates a story about a man who eats too much and dies, and another concerns a commoner who is rebuffed by a socialite. A third one contrasts the merits of two potential suitors: in the end, the lady chooses to spend her days with the handsome one and her nights with the horrible, crass one with no redeeming outward qualities except for a self-proclaimed “big soul”. The piano music supporting them is bouncy, jazzy, and melodramatic. The words are sung in hammy, whispered, feverish perfection (I’m not kidding: it’s a cabaret!) by Sutter herself.
The remainder of the release is taken up with a minor waltz by Suter and by a fourmovement song cycle by Sutter. The latter work, taking up over 18 minutes, is rambling, ponderous and dissonant; it sets lengthy, esoteric poems by the composer. I did not hear much of value in it, aside from a few noteworthy sonic effects created through the interaction of long tones held by the two singers (though Leon’s is the primary voice, Sutter occasionally chimes in). This is only a modest lull, though, in what is in all other respects a tremendously rich offering. The eclecticism and artfulness of this release are unmistakable, leading me to hope that the inspired pairing of kindred spirits Suter and Sutter will result in a great many similar releases in the future.

Schweizer Musikzeitung – Dezember 2012

Kreisen um Schönberg und Suter
Wie in der auf Robert Schumann bezogenen kammermusikalischen Hommage à R. Sch. von György Kurtag’ herrschen in der Robert Suter (1919- 2008) gewidmeten Hommage à R. S. expressive Miniaturen vor. Aus solchen bestehen nicht nur die beiden Suiten (1943- und 1945) und das sehr kurze Stück Epilog – Wälzerchen – Reminiszenz (1997) von Robert Suter, sondern auch die Komposition unfassbar en Forme de Suite für Sing-, Sprechstimme und Klavier (2011) von Claudia Sutter.
Die als Pianistin, Sängerin, Lyrikerin und Leiterin der Basler Konzert- reihe Le Salon bleu bekannt geworde ne Musikerin fühlt eine Wesensverwandtschaft mit Robert Suter. Seine Grundprinzipien dienten ihr als Vorbild für ihre Vokalsuite, die eigene Texte mit einem Gedicht von Ingeborg Bachmann verknüpft: Archaisches Inniges, Abstraktes und Virtuoses. Mit ihrem Einbezug von Sprechstimme und ausdrucksvoller Gestik erinnert die Komposition unfassbar an Schönbergs Pierrot lunaire, der am Ausgang von Robert Suters kompositorischer Entwicklung stand. Wie Claudia Sutter in ihrer Komposition umkreist auch Robert Suter in seinen Deutschen Chansons für Singstimme und Klavier (1978 und 1987) den Wiener Zwölftonpionier. Schönberg teilt in seinen Deutschen Chansons, den Brettl-Liedern, mit dem Schweizer Komponisten nebst den Textdichtern Otto Julius Bierbaum und Frank Wedekind den leichten Tonfall, Ironie und jenen typischen wienerischen Charme, der auch die mit Suter verwandten Chansons von Georg Kreisler auszeichnet.
In Suters geistvollen Refrainliedern und den übrigen Kostbarkeiten überzeugt die Künstlerin als einfühlsame Altistin im selben Masse wie als Pianistin in den frei-atonalen Klaviersuiten. Wie sie dort Trillerketten und Legatobögen gestaltet, selbst in Pianissimo-Passagen mit grossem Klangfarbenreichtum verblüfft und dem Notentext bis ins kleinste dynamische Detail hinein die Treue hält, beeindruckt nachhaltig.
Walter Labhart

MusicWeb – August 2012

Robert Suter was born in St. Gall in 1919, studying piano, theory and composition at the Basle Conservatory to which city he returned after the war to teach at the Music Academy. He had attended Darmstadt summer courses – Fortner and Krenek had taught there – but the seismic revelation in his life came via his discovery of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. He also loved Jazz and indeed played in a jazz band called The Darktown Strutters, as well as working as a cinema and bar pianist.
He wrote in a wide range of forms but this disc concentrates on his piano scores. The Suite of 1943 is clearly versed in Schoenbergian lore, its first movement’s obsessive use of trills giving it the air of a study. But Suter offers droll imitation too, a kind of staccato polyphony, in the central movement – they are all very brief movements, the longest being two and a half minutes in length. The fourth movement is an exacting example of compact breadth, a free atonal line held under strong control, whilst the final movement’s motoric rhythms – forget Martinu’s motor rhythms – this is a different kettle of fish entirely – just about qualifies as a Gigue.
The second suite followed two years later. This one sets up steep contrasts, both powerfully chordal and more intimately reflective. Uneasiness reigns. The calm-seeming lines of the fourth movement (of six), which is by far the longest at four minutes, end unresolved, as it’s the sixth movement that’s the one to provide geniality in a clever and successful resolution. There is less evidence of his Schoenbergian allegiances in this later suite.
The German Songs were written much later between 1978 and 1987. They are in strophic ballad form, veering toward Weimar grotesque from time to time. There are funereal marches, Schubertian allusions and, in the last, a lilting song of love. It’s quite hard to square the composer of the 1943 suite with the composer of these songs, though the slightly hysterical edge in one does suggest quite shrill emotions. Claudia Sutter sings and accompanies herself, sounding very like Lotte Lenya in the nasty aunt-killing song Der Tanttenmörder.
Sutter has composed her own song cycle, unfassbar a suite for mezzo and sprechgesang, one of those words which never fits comfortably into an English translation. The work hearkens back to Schoenberg in its abstractions, its abruptness and in its twelve tone feel. But the Schoenberg influence softens and mutates, and the two voices provide an interesting point of contrast. We end with Robert Suter’s sad little waltz, wan, and delicate.
Is it coincidence that Claudia Sutter’s name is one consonant away from that of Robert Suter? The notes are silent. In any case, this is a deft homage to Suter, whose voice is a strong, salient one.
Jonathan Woolf

Neue Zürcher Zeitung – Feuilleton – 20.07.2012

Andenken an Robert Suter
Um den 2008 verstorbenen Komponisten Robert Suter ist es still geworden. Zu Lebzeiten war Suter im schweizerischen Musikleben eine markante Persönlichkeit; er hinterliess ein umfangreiche Werk mit Kammermusik, Orchesterwerken, Vokalmusik und Dramatischem. Eine, die das Andenken Suters lebendig halten will, ist die Pianistin, Sängerin, Lyrikerin und Komponistin Claudia Sutter. Auf der CD «Hommage à R. S.» spielt und singt sie Werke Robert Suters und setzt sich in ihrer Eigenkomposition «Unfassbar» mit dem Künstler-Charakter des ihr wesensverwandten Komponisten auseinander. In der 1943 entstandenen Klaviersuite Nr. 1 huldigt Suter einer atonalen Musiksprache, die gleichzeitig gewisse Elemente der barocken Suite aufnimmt. Ganz anders geartet sind die «Deutschen Chansons für Singstimme und Klavier». Mit ihrem naturhaften Chansontimbre bringt Claudia Sutter den Schalk und den volkstümlichen Charakter dieser Lieder bestens zur Geltung, während sie auf den Klaviertasten einen mitunter schrägen Kommentar beisteuert. In ihrem eigenen Stück «Unfassbar» greift sie vier Stilprinzipien Suters auf, nämlich das Archaische, das Innige, das Abstrakte und das Virtuose. Der letzte Satz widmet sich dem Denken, wobei das Thema von der Singstimme, gesungen von Leslie Leon, und der Sprechstimme ganz unterschiedlich angegangen und vom Klavier virtuos kommentiert wird.

Basler Zeitung Februar 2012

Röbi Suter zu Ehren
Man tut wohl kein Unrecht, wenn man bei den frühen Klaviersuiten des im Juni 2008 verstorbenen Baslers Robert Suter an Paul Hindemith denkt: dieselbe Tendenz zum Linearen und Motorischen, derselbe antiromantische Gestus, versetzt mit etwas Jazzharmonik. Der junge Suter, jazzerfahrener Pianist und als Komponist Autodidakt, hat aus ganzem Herzen die Musik seiner Zeitgenossen in sich aufgesogen. «Leicht und humorvoll» lautet eine der Satzüberschriften – sie könnte für einen Grossteil des Suter’schen OEuvres gelten, das ohne Metaphysik auskam, nicht aber ohne erotisches Flair. Die vielseitige Claudia Sutter spielt Suters Klavierstücke abgesehen von den etwas holprigen Trillern sorgfältig und einfühlsam. In den an die «Brettllieder» der Zwanzigerjahre erinnernden «Deutschen Chansons» singt sie mit schöner Altstimme und klarer Diktion zum eigenen Spiel, ebenso wie in ihrer eigenen Suite «Unfassbar». Da gehen kabarettistischer Witz a la Zwanzigerjahre und musikalische Gegenwart eine interessante Allianz ein. bli