GMCD 7395 – Fritz Brun – Symphony No. 1 & Overture to a Jubilee Celebration
Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Adriano (conductor)
American Record Guide – May/June 2014
Back in the 1960s, a friend of mine studying musicology in Zurich wrote me about Fritz Brun (1878-1959). Brun underwent the typical fate of a Swiss artist (see July/Aug 2009). For decades, the recorded library of his work consisted of one movement from his Symphony 5. Guild has happily improved on that. They’ve now recorded six of his ten symphonies and his impressive symphonic poem The Book of Job. Although quite tonal, Brun’s symphonies are intellectually rigorous and make few concessions to a casual listener. He quite consciously carries out the Brahms tradition as he sees (hears?) it. His orchestration is rarely colourful for its own sake—a Brahms characteristic —but applied mainly to clarify lines.
Symphony 1, dating from 1902, when he was 24, could be subtitled “My Memories of Brahms”. It’s not a work I’d use to introduce someone to Brun. I is aggressive and forbidding, with intricate lines. II, the slow movement, is more introverted, but the part-writing and textures are just as elaborate. The music also has some rustic-sounding elements, leading to a beautifully voiced brass chorale. The scherzo returns to a boisterous mood, with off-accented figures, then to an evenly paced tune. A stately, even pompous theme enters, decked out in dense, opaque orchestration. The movement tries to cram too many moods into its brief duration. The conclusion is quiet, like the Brahms Third, but emotionally less tranquil.
Radio Bern commissioned the Overture to a Jubilee Celebration for its 25th anniversary. It’s laid out in a slow introduction, followed by an allegro theme spiced with irregular accents. The overture also has a lightly scored dancelike passage using cross-rhythms. The finale uses the 16 Century hymn ‘In God’s Name I Will Arise’, handled with appropriate splendor. It’s a curious piece—wholly obsolescent for 1950, yet written with complete integrity.
The recorded sound is good. Adriano’s interpretation is typically expansive. The playing —much of this is owing to Brun’s thick scoring—is coarse, brutal even, adding to the alienating effect. A bigger complaint might be the short measure for a CD.
Expeditionaudio.com – February 2014
Guild has become an essential label for listeners eager to discover exceptional unknown repertoire, especially for those with an interest in orchestral music of the Romantic and Post-Romantic eras. A perfect case in point is the ongoing project to record the complete symphonies of Swiss composer Fritz Brun (1878-1959). With this latest release of his First Symphony along with the Overture to a Jubilee Celebration, Guild now has made available Brun’s Symphonies Nos. 1, 5-7 and 9-10. All of the recordings in the series are performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under Adriano.
Brun’s First Symphony was a student work, composed to fulfill requirements for his graduation from Cologne Conservatory. It was premiered in 1902, when Brun was twenty-four years of age. It’s a remarkably mature work, virile, bold, often foreboding and grim but not without its moments in the sun. Structurally, it is rather loose and rhapsodic. The influences I hear are pretty equal measures of Brahms and Dvorak, but Wagner and Bruckner are present too. At the same time though, you can hear that this is music of a later time. In this early symphony, Brun already displays great accomplishment in the areas of orchestration and harmony. Opening in rollicking fashion, the sample in the sidebar from the album is the symphony’s third movement.
The music is well recorded, although I found it to be a little on the ‘live’ side for my taste. Overall the performances are passionate and assured. In the biography from the album notes the writer expresses conductor Adriano’s conviction that ‘Much more good music has been written than certain musicologists and critics would care to admit.’ Exploring this ‘good music’ seems to be a guiding principle for Adriano in his selection of recording projects, and in the case of this Brun cycle, he clearly proves his point.
International Record Review – November 2013
In the latest instalment of Guild’s ongoing survey of the orchestral output of Swiss composer Fritz Brun (1878-1959), the focus is on the first of his ten symphonies, composed in 1900-02 when he was still a student in Cologne (earlier volumes were reviewed in October 2006 and June 2009). Though it received a number of performances from the year of its completion into the 1940s the work has never been published and Brun’s original manuscript has disappeared; this recording uses a fair copy and set of parts made by his friend Hermann Wilhelm Draber. Conductor Adriano contributes a very extensive booklet note so exhaustive in detail and speculation that I won’t even try to paraphrase it; I’ll just note that Adriano finds it useful to compare Brun’s work with the exactly contemporary First Symphony of Brun’s Dutch friend Jan van Gilse – the two symphonies shared the 1902 Paderewski Prize – which would probably be more enlightening if one had a recording of van Gilse’s piece to hand.
Taking Brun’s symphony – a dramatic, large-scale four-movement composition in the sombre key of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ – simply as it sounds, it turns out to be an impressive achievement for a 23-year-old, clearly couched in the vocabulary of Germanic late-romanticism but with a subtle character of its own, very well orchestrated and handling the expected forms with skill. Certainly the influence of Brahms can be felt at many points – it was apropos this work that the young Brun declared himself more interested in continuing the symphonic tradition established by Brahms than succumb to the influences of the ‘New German’ school, or Wagner, or Strauss – but it is more a matter of colouring and phrasing than slavish emulation, and one could point to several Brucknerian echoes as well. The work consists of a forceful first movement, a lyric slow movement of considerable beauty, a jubilant scherzo and a tripartite finale, beginning with a fairly unmistakable reference to the start of the finale of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2, which, despite some checks and false starts, wins through resolutely to a satisfying conclusion. Adriano’s descriptions of this movement (‘the composer stands shattered at the edge of an abyss which he had long feared he would have to face’) strike me as a mite overcooked, though it is certainly a stirring piece and probably the finest part of the symphony. The ending is unexpectedly abrupt and quiet: Adriano thinks it ‘strange and bitter’, while to me it’s more interestingly laconic.
The Ouvertüre zu einer Jubiläumsfeier, written for the 25th anniversary of Radio Berne, is based on the sixteenth-century church melody In Gottes Namen heb ich’s an (‘In God’s name will I rise’), whose words had become associated with praise not only of God but the big bear that is the heraldic symbol of the City of Berne. In it Brun eschewed the more contemporary idiom of his recent symphonies and produced a work for popular consumption not far from the model and style of, say, Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture. It’s certainly a spirited and attractive piece.
Adriano’s interpretations of these works sound confidently authentic and the members of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, with whom he has by now established a longstanding rapport, sound as if they’re playing at the top of their game. (The Symphony gives the brass ensemble some striking opportunities to shine.) Guild’s recording is fully up the standards of previous volumes in this series, which is certainly putting Fritz Brun on the map as probably, despite the claims of his elder contemporary Hans Huber, Switzerland’s most important symphonist. Rather short measure for a CD these days, though!