Reviews

GMCD 7306 – Symphony No. 9 & Aus dem Buch Hiob by Fritz Brun

Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Adriano – Conductor

To the CD in our Shop


AUDIOPHILE AUDITION FEBRUARY 23 2008

Fritz Brun is a Swiss composer who was born in Lucerne in 1878. He followed a standard course of studies that included one Willem Mengelberg as a piano instructor. He migrated to Berlin as private teacher and musician to Prince George of Prussia. In 1903 he returned to Bern and settled for good, accepting the invitation to become the city’s orchestra conductor, along with several choral societies. He finally retired to the shores of Lake Lugano, and died near the end of 1959. He wrote ten major symphonies, and if this one is anything like the others then his neglect has been truly unjustified.

Aside from the symphonies there is a considerable catalog of works that include several tone poems, a Piano Concerto, a Cello Concerto, songs, four Sting Quartets, and three or four more significant chamber works. I notice that his Symphony No. 3 and the string quartets have also been recorded, the former by these same forces here.

The music is deceptive—you must give it a chance to unwind, but when it starts (which is very soon), the sheer inventiveness and melodic inspiration become blatantly apparent. Though his personality was said to be considerably gruff (and with a temper to boot), this is not what we hear in this most joyous and life-enhancing music. The sunny mood that he creates in this work follows closely his own autobiographical instincts according to the events in his life at the time. He initially delivered a program, very detailed, for the first performance, wherein he speaks of scenarios involving friends, love, artistic discussions, arguments about art and politics, and finally, in the fifth and last movement, “I see the great magnificence and can’t behold enough of it…Then, under the firmament, my heart tells me in my breast: there is something better in the world than all its pain and pleasure”.

Not bad words to live by even today.

These words were quoted from the German poet Matthias Claudius (1740-1815), and are from a very passionate poem about love for life and hope. The symphony oozes these sentiments in every movement, and its late romantic, though tempered musical expression is one that simply cannot be resisted.

The coupling on this release, From The Book of Job, is not terribly different in tone from the symphony, even though it predates it by 41 years. It is more of a young man’s take on a profound subject (suffering, redemption, and its meaning), and is certainly more derivative, as young works always are. But it is nevertheless an assertive and persuasive piece, entertaining in its own right.

Guild provides some excellent sound for this release, and the orchestra comes through with great dynamic ranges and a wide, clear soundstage. My only problem is some of the playing—the Moscow Symphony sounds under-rehearsed in many places, and there are some sloppy phrases and ragged ensemble. But overall this is recommendable to those who desire to hear an authentic voice that has been truly neglected—you will not be disappointed.
© Steven Ritter


Tempo V; Tempo Vol. 60 No. 238 OCTOBER 2006

There are symphonic cycles on CD featuring several neglected 20th-century British composers. A similar project devoted to Switzerland’s foremost symphonist – only three of whose ten symphonies have been published – was long overdue. In his lifetime Fritz Brun (1878-1959) found champions in his Swiss conducting colleague Volkmar Andreae and in Hermann Scherchen, an outspoken judge if there ever was one. But Brun’s persistence in making time for composition, even before his retirement from the concert podium, was not accompanied by a talent for self-promotion, and his last works coincided with the onrushing tide of Modernism. Others have gone before Adriano in committing a Fritz Brun symphony to CD: there are two such recordings of the Second. But Adriano’s intention of recording the complete set reflects just the whole-hearted advocacy that was needed.

In his booklet notes Adriano describes the Ninth as Brun’s magnum opus. The received opinion, however, is that Brun reacted to the precedent of Beethoven with an atypically lighter work: a prelude, in fact, to the weightier Tenth. This view, I suspect, is largely correct. Brun’s hour-long Eighth Symphony has an underlying ‘programme’ connected to the times of the day. In his Ninth, the programme is indicated through the following five movement headings: ‘Vorspiel’, ‘Serenade’, ‘Liebesruf’, ‘Im Kreis der Freunde’ and ‘Glaube und Zweifel – Lob Gottes und der Natur’. The key is a pastoral F major, and the symphony ends benignly. The finale, at 15 minutes, comprises one third of the whole. Dramatic and complex, it presents almost a tone poem in itself. Regarding this finale, Brun quoted some poignant lines from a poem by Matthias Claudius, ‘Die Sternseherin Lise’. In its breadth the movement invites comparison with the first movement of Brun’s Third Symphony (reviewed in Tempo Vol. 59 No. 233, pp. 80-2) or the Largo e mesto movement of his String Quartet in F.

The second most substantial portion of Brun’s Ninth is the central Andante sostenuto, for which the first two movements pave the way. Here the listener is reminded of the impassioned slow movement of Brun’s Second Symphony. The fourth movement vividly portrays one of those convivial artistic gatherings in which Othmar Schoeck figured prominently in his earlier years. A quarrel breaks out; someone assuages it with a melody from Flotow’s opera Martha, and the group eventually disperses with a burst of ‘Gaudeamus igitur’.

As Fritz Brun’s orchestral oeuvre is gradually disinterred, so his melodic gifts, his harmonic resourcefulness and singular handling of polyphonic textures become more and more striking. How early in Brun’s career these powers began to develop is illustrated by Adriano’s compelling account of a 1906 symphonic poem inspired by the Book of Job. What surprises is not the influence of Beethoven, Brahms or Bruckner but – repeated listening confirms this – the stylistic independence that Brun’s music was already displaying. Further pieces of a fascinating jigsaw are eagerly awaited.
Peter Palmer


International Record Review, October 2006

At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Switzerland harboured two major symphonists – major at least in the scope and aspirations of their symphonic output. Both of them have been largely forgotten, even in Switzerland itself. The Basle-based Hans Huber (1852-1921), a friend of Busoni, wrote at least eight symphonies. A generation younger, Fritz Brun (1878-1959), whose activities were based in Berne, wrote no fewer than ten. Also admired by Busoni, Brun trained with Mengelberg and Brahms’s friend Franz Wüllner, and as a pianist and conductor he championed Brahms’s works in Switzerland. Indeed he seems to have identified closely with Brahms: in his long, close friendship with Othmar Schoeck he signed himself in correspondence as “Johannes”, while Schoeck called himself `Hugo’ (after Wolf). And both works an this disc, though written over 40 years apart, clearly reflect Brahmsian phraseology and orchestration, though other influences are equally apparent – Wagner, Strauss, Bruckner, perhaps Schoeck – blended into a late- or post-Romantic language of warmth and distinction. Unlike the Swiss composers who came after him – Honegger, Frank Martin and so on – Brun never dreamed of breaking away from the great Austro-German Symphonic tradition, and so became something of an anachronism in his own time, though held in respect. (I’ve seen him referred to as ‘the Swiss Vaughan Williams’, though folk-music as such seems to have played little part in his musical language.)

Despite that esteem, comparatively few of Brun’s major works were published, and the two scores an this disc have had to be edited from the manuscripts held at the Paul Sacher Institute in Basle. There are Gallo CDs from the early 1990s of Brun’s warmly romantic Second Symphony and a set of Variations on an Original Theme for piano and strings, but this is the most notable Brun release to have come my way. Aus dem Buch Hiob is a deeply serious, mainly meditative early tone-poem (1906) depicting the events of the Bock of Job in the late-Romantic amalgam I’ve outlined above. The obbligato solo violin (reminding us perhaps of Elihu’s dance in Vaughan Williams’s Job) has a comparatively small role. But the major work here is the Ninth Symphony.

Conductor Adriano, who supplies his own booklet notes, compares Brun to Furtwängler as a composer-conductor – no doubt also in the conservatism of his Idiom – and Claims the Ninth Symphony ‘as his opus magnum’. But his music seems warmer than Furtwängler’s, and conciser in its forms; and I’m given to understand by others who know something of Brun’s output that the term opus magnum should be reserved for the Tenth. In fact the five-movement No. 9 is rather suite-like or even serenade-like in conception, a kind of quasi-autobiographical reverie in a pastoral F major, with which Brun may have been finding his own way of declining the famous `Ninth Symphony’ challenge. He described it as `a diary’. The first movement, a bustling, good-humoured `Vorspiel’ with a gorgeous second-subject tune, is kept short; there follows, as second and third movements, a euphonious Serenade and a romantically lyrical love-scene. The fourth movement is a programmatic scherzo depicting a group of friends at a Zurich restaurant equably discussing family matters and then becoming disputatious as the conversation turns to art. Order is restored with a quotation from Flotow’s Martha and the friends join in a chorus of Gaudeamus igitur. The slow finale, longer than any other two movements combined, is the most profound: entitled `Belief and Doubt – Praise of God and Nature’, it is almost a self-contained tone-poem of sustained nature-meditation, with some dramatic minor-key irruptions but rising to a coda of quiet ecstasy.

Of course for its composition date of 1949-50 – it belongs to the comparatively large number of works Brun composed beside Lake Lugano after he retircd from the conductorship of the Berne Orchestra in 1941 – this Ninth Symphony’s idiom is desperately outmoded: as outmoded, that is, as that of its virtual contemporary, Strauss’s Four Last Songs. But I find it a beautiful and rather touching work which encourages me to get to know more of this serious and idealistic composer. The orchestral mastery, great polyphonic skill of the writing and the cleanness of the harmony – so much less clotted than many of his post-Brahmsian contemporaries – are also impressive, and Adriano (who refers to the considerable technical difficulties of Brun’s scores, and the unwillingness of orchestras to take the time to rehearse them properly) directs the Moscow Symphony in what seems a thoroughly prepared, understanding and warmly affectionate account of the piece. Guild provides a beautifully balanced recording. Warmly recommended. I’m told this is the first release in a near-complete Brun symphonies series from Guild (omitting only No. 3, which 1 understand is currently available on a Sterling CD). This can only be good news.
Calum MacDonald


Schweizer Musikzeitung 10.10.2006

Der Dirigent Adriano hat sich vorgenommen, alle Orchesterwerke des einstigen Bernischer Musikdirektors einschliesslich dessen zehn Sinfonien auf CDs zu bringen. Ob Fritz Bruns ungedruckte Neunte als sein Opus magnum (so Adriano im ausführlichen CD-Booklet) zu bewerten sei, bleibe dahingestellt. Man dürfte dieses 1949-1950 komponierte fünfsätzige Werk eher als ein bewusstes Intermezzo zwischen der einstündigen Achten und der geläuterten Zehnten Sinfonie Bruns ansehen. Daher der Serenadencharakter der Sätze eins bis vier; daraufhin freilich ruft der relativ gross angelegte Finale-Satz (Andante) ernste Stimmen und Stimmungen hervor.

Unter Bruns zumeist nach strengen Formprinzipien gebauten Sinfonien ist die Neunte einmalig, insofern er das Werk als ein musikalisches Tagebuch bezeichnete. Einem rüstigen Vorspiel (Vivace) und der eigentlichen Serenade (Allegretto comodo) folgen ein passionierter Liebesruf (Andante sostenuto) und der scherzhafte Allegro-Satz Im Kreis der Freunde, worin eine Melodie aus Flotows Oper Martha wie auch schliesslich ein Anklang an Gaudeamus igitur auftauchen. Der fünfte Satz heisst Glaube und Zweifel – Lob Gottes und der Natur. Diesbezüglich zitierte der Komponist in einer an Volkmar Andreae, den Dirigenten der Zürcher Uraufführung, gerichteten Anmerkung einige Zeilen aus dem Matthias-Claudius-Gedicht Die Sternseherin Lise.

Wie schon bei der Dritten Sinfonie Bruns hat Adriano eine recht ansprechende Wiederbelebungsarbeit vollzogen. Noch dazu zeugt seine Einspielung der sinfonischen Dichtung Aus dem Buch Hiob davon, dass Fritz Brun trotz aller Beeinflussung seitens der Spätromantiker schon 1906 mit der Kristallisierung seines persönlichen musikalischen Stils begonnen hatte.
Peter Palmer


ArkivMusic

How many times has this happened right in the middle of a conversation or work the thought appears why can’t I find any Swiss composers who remind me of Richard Strauss? This enterprising release should solve that problem! In its style of orchestration, melodies and sheer exuberance, the Symphony No. 9 by Fritz Brun comes strikingly close to such Strauss works as Don Juan and the Symphonia Domestica. The attention being given to Brun’s music has been growing in recent years, and we are particularly pleased to present these first recordings of two of his major orchestral works. He was particularly noted for his brilliantly-written orchestral music, and of his ten completed Symphonies, written between 1908 and 1953, the Ninth is regarded as one of the best. Completed in 1950, it is an impressive composition of inherent strength and nobility. Coupled with it is one of Brun’s symphonic poems, From the Book of Job, an equally masterful score of imagination and refinement. The performances by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under Adriano, whose specialty is the revival of unusual music like this, are notable for their excellence and understanding, with state-of-the-art engineering.

LETTER FROM USA

Just read David Hurwitz’s review. It’s a classic example of criticism that makes more of a statement about the writer’s ego than about what he is reviewing. I hope it is taken in that spirit and remains impervious to his unwarranted  venom.

One may recognize devotion without necessarily subscribing to the cause. For example, I’m sure the members of the Flat Earth Society are sincere, but it’s still foolishness. So is the music of Swiss composer Fritz Brun, whose excruciatingly dull Third Symphony has already been loving presented (on Sterling) by Adriano and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. These two works are no better. Both are conventionally scored for a Mendelssohnian orchestra, employed with extreme fastidiousness and restraint, and this in music dating from 1906 and 1950. From the point of view of texture and color, you would think that the entire second half of the 19th century had never occurred.

But that isn’t really the point. Expressively, Brun runs the emotional gamut from A to B, or just possibly C. He has three modes of expression: mildly frisky, placid, and mildly agitated. That’s it. And he presents them, not as a linear or logically related progression of ideas and events, but all jumbled up, seemingly at random, lurching from one tepid extreme to the next. So everything sounds like everything else, all the time. The Ninth Symphony has five movements and a pretentious philosophical program about God and Nature and Faith and all of that stuff, but it’s the musical equivalent of the proverbial hair shirt: a punishing collection of inhibitions and proscriptions devoid of meaning or clarity.

From the Book of Job is, if anything, even worse, as it can’t hide behind the symphony’s alibi of dealing in abstractions. I was reminded of Bernard Shaw’s comment on Parry’s oratorio on the same subject, to the effect that there isn’t a single bar of the music that comes within ten thousand miles of the flattest line of the text. This tone poem lasts nearly eighteen interminable minutes, and nothing, but nothing interesting happens along the way. The performances are devoted, to be sure, and the playing of the Moscow Symphony is pretty good, aside from some typical scruffiness from the strings. Adding insult to injury, this is very difficult music to present well: the parts are terribly exposed, and Brun’s spasmodic syntax must be as frustrating to the musician as to the listener. For penitential souls only.
David Hurwitz

Comments: Destructive criticism


Klassik Com  Sunday September 03 2006

Ein sinfonisches Tagebuch

Ganze zehn Sinfonien beinhaltet das Schaffen des Schweizers Fritz Brun (1878-1959): Werke, an deren formaler Gestaltung, Besetzung und Ausdehnung die Vorbilder Brahms und Bruckner deutlich abzulesen sind. Wer jedoch in der Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts so überzeugt an der als überkommen angesehenen Gattung der Sinfonie festhielt und sich einer Tonsprache befleißigte, die als ‚rückständig’ angesehen wurde, dessen Schaffen musste nur allzu bald in Vergessenheit geraten – dass die Kompositionen zu Lebzeiten Bruns durchaus gut aufgenommen wurden, konnte daran nichts ändern. So sieht es auf dem Plattenmarkt in Sachen Fritz Brun auch sehr dürftig aus; zum Glück gibt es aber immer wieder überzeugte Künstler, die zu Unrecht (?) vergessene Meister wieder in das allgemeine Bewusstsein zurückbringen wollen. In diesem Falle ist es Adriano, der in Kooperation mit den Moskauer Sinfonikern bereits eine beim Label Sterling erschienene Einspielung der dritten Sinfonie Bruns vorgelegt hat. Mit der Neunten und einer sinfonischen Dichtung ging es nun weiter; erschienen ist diese neue Einspielung beim Schweizer Label Guild.

Musikalisches Tagebuch

Gut eine Dreiviertelstunde dauert die neunte Sinfonie in F-Dur, die Brun im Jahr 1950 fertig stellte. Zielpunkt der Sinfonie ist der ausladende Schlusssatz ‚Glaube und Zweifel – Lob Gottes und der Natur’, der auf ein Vorspiel, eine zweisätzige Liebesszene und eine turbulentes Scherzo im ‚Kreis der Freunde’ folgt. Das Werk gehört zu den späten drei ‚retrospektiven’ Sinfonien Bruns; der Komponist hat angesichts autobiographischer Bezüge von einem musikalischen Tagebuch gesprochen. Die mit dichten thematischen Querbeziehungen aufwartende und in lichten Farben und abgeklärter Stimmung dahinfließende Komposition wird den Ansprüchen an eine ‚Neunte Sinfonie’ durchaus gerecht. Die religiöse Tendenz im Finale legt die Kombination mit der frühen sinfonischen Dichtung ‚Aus dem Buch Hiob’ (1906) durchaus nahe. Hier ging es Brun mehr um die Schilderung der inneren Vorgänge und der überzeitlichen Bedeutung Hiobs für den Gläubigen, weniger um konkret-bildliche Schilderungen.

Spätromantik

Beide Kompositionen folgen in ihrer Tonsprache der spätromantischen Tradition, angereichert jedoch durch einige mystisch angehauchte Akkordverbindungen; über weite Strecken kann man sich an Richard Strauss erinnert fühlen, dessen orchestrale Brillanz und Intensität Brun jedoch nicht erreicht, vielleicht aber auch gar nicht erreichen wollte. Die zahlreichen Themenverknüpfungen der Sinfonie machen dabei wiederholtes Hören nötig. Hier hätte Adriano jedoch, der die beiden Werke eher in breitem Pinselstrich vor uns ausbreitet, durch klarere Strukturierung des Geschehens dem Hörer durchaus entgegen kommen können. Die Musik gerät manchmal etwas zu schwelgerisch, irgendwie zu ‚russisch’. Etwas mehr abgeklärte Nüchternheit hätte der von dem ansonsten technisch auf hohem Niveau musizierenden russischen Orchester dargebotenen Musik sicher gut gestanden.

Weiträumiger Klang

Die Tendenz zur Breite wird auch von der Klangtechnik unterstützt; die 2005er Aufnahme ist im Klangbild etwas weiträumig geraten – weiträumiger, als man es bei den im Prinzip durchaus nicht überdimensioniert großen Orchesterbesetzungen erwarten würde. Der Klang ist zudem etwas muffig, die letzte Tiefenschärfe fehlt, und auch die dynamischen Ausbrüche vermitteln nicht die Energie, die man erhoffen würde. Den ausführlichen Booklet-Text hat Adriano selbst verfasst; er wird neben dem offenbar englischsprachigen Original auch in deutscher Übersetzung angeboten. Für das Repertoire und den auf dem Plattenmarkt arg vernachlässigten Fritz Brun ist diese Produktion sicher eine wertvolle Bereicherung. Eine umfassende künstlerische Neubewertung des Schaffens dieses Komponisten steht freilich noch aus; immerhin zeigt die neunte Sinfonie aber, dass ihr Schöpfer, trotz seiner großen Traditionsverbundenheit, eine durchaus eigenständige Sprache gefunden hat. Wer durchgeistigte Spätromantik mag, die auf Inhalte denn auf Effekte Wert legt, sollte sich diese Produktion merken.
Christian Vitalis


A Letter to the maestro Tuesday August 01 2006

A belated thanks for your superb new CD. We were both very favourably impressed by the music as well as by the quality of the performance. Visually also, it’s a most attractive production. All best wishes for a long and productive association with Guild.

Brun’s Ninth Symphony is a most appealing work, and with repeated hearings it only gets more attractive. I love its overall serenity and reflective quality. It’s interesting how successfully he incorporated a touch of the then prevalent neoclassicism into his post romantic idiom in such a completely natural, unmannered way. And also how his basic language remains romantic to such a late date without sounding old-fashioned or outdated. And despite what critics may have said, I found the quiet ending wonderful. The early symphonic poem also is very interesting, being very much a product of the extravagant musical era, yet steering clear of its excesses. The luminosity and consonance of the ending is especially effective. And to think of the Symphonies that remain to be discovered! It will be a joy.
David Nelson and Joe Cooper

(former owners of Records International, Goleta USA)


A Letter to the Maestro – Monday July 17 2006

Dear Maestro,

Affectionate greetings, once again, from Yokosuka! We hope that your birthday, a few days ago, was a very pleasant one, and that this will be the start of a wonderful new year for you.  We must thank you for  the wonderful recording devoted to the music of Fritz Brun. What a feast for the ears is your dedicated performance of the expansive, achingly beautiful 9th symphony. In time, your pioneering work will convince the musical world that Brun is a late-romantic master, whose work deserves wide recognition beyond the confines of his native country. While the Brahmsian influence cannot be denied — and Brun, of course, affection ally quotes the Meister in the symphony, Brun’s voice is really quite distinctive, and he is a fount of marvellous musical ideas which he worked to perfection.

You bring out every subtle nuance of this marvellous work, and are alive to its wit and gentle mystery. There is an abundance of charm, as well, but, in your knowing hands, the effect is never cloying. As for your rapport with the Moscow Symphony, it is, surely, at this point, an intuitive, almost relationship which results in the most refined, cultured playing. Of course, you deliver superb results with a variety of European ensembles, but the chemistry between you and the Muscovites seems very special. Thank you so very much for sharing with us these beautifully rendered performances of such life-affirmative music. We shall return to them very often! That these recordings were issued on the Guild label probably has a story attached to it, but, whatever the reason, we are grateful to this enterprising company!

Meanwhile, we hope that it is a productive, but, also, relaxing time for you. Do take care, for now, and thanks again for so much beauty!
US Marine Captain – Andrew Benson