Reviews

GMCD 7400 – Volkmar Andreae – Symphony, Songs, Concertino – WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING

Benjamin Hulett (tenor), John Anderson (oboe), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Marc Andreae (conductor)

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International Record Review – Mai 2014

It was Hermann Hesse, no less, who introduced Volkmar Andreae to the eighth-century poetry of Li-Tai-Pe — not in the German versions in Hans Bethge’s Der Chinesische Flöte, which had formed the literary backbone of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, but in the very different translations of the poet, playwright and novelist Alfred Henschke (1890-1928), widely known in German-speaking countries during his short career under his pseudonym of Klabund. Yet the eight settings for tenor and large(-ish) orchestra that Andreae was moved to compose in 1931-33 feel, as with Das Lied, like a ‘song-cycle symphony’, if a highly compressed one lasting less than a third of the duration of the Mahler.
Something like direct comparison is possible, for the two works include settings of two of the same poems — in fact they both begin with the same poem, quite recognizable despite all the differences in style between Bethge and Klabund and all the potential for reading Chinese characters in different ways. Andreae must have been aware of this when he chose ‘Das Lied von Kammer’ (‘The Song of Sorrow’; in Mahler this is, of course, ‘Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde’, ‘The Drinking-Song of Earth’s sorrow’) as his opener, and it prompts the thought that he may have seen himself as writing a counterpart or even an answer to the Mahler, from his own perspective.
Though clearly a song of distress, with a repeated ‘O-he!’ refrain, Andreae’s setting of the first song is more philosophical and accepting than Mahler’s: not even the howling monkey disturbs the pattern set up by the strophic nature of his setting. His fourth song, ‘On the Banks of the Yo-Yeh’, is also recognizably the same poem as Mahler’s fourth song ‘Von der Schönheit’, and here Andreae mingles traits of Debussyan impressionism with playful neo-classicism. Both works include an ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’), though here the poems are different, and unlike Mahler, who makes his Farewell the extremely slow finale and ultimate goal of the whole piece, Andreae places his as the scherzo-like seventh and penultimate song, choosing to end with a short poem of very different character. Andreae has none of Mahler’s wild bitterness and bone-deep melancholy; but he respects Li-Tai-Pe’s recurring theme of his isolation and loneliness that makes him an outsider in the scenes he describes (there is a subtle suggestion throughout the cycle that the poet is an a journey or walking tour).
The musical language finds occasional spots for some restrained chinoiserie, but generally it uses Andreae’s own sophisticated, eclectic language to probe beneath the surface to the emotional core. His individuality emerges in passages such as the long, melancholic postlude to the second song, ‘The Wanderer Awakes in the Hostel’ (it takes half the length of the song), with its plangent cor anglais and oboe solos. ‘Farewell’, after coming to one of the few climactic outbursts an the piece, also has an instrumental postlude that leads into the short final Song, ‘The Great White Egret’, a wonderful nature evocation that returns to the theme of Li-TaiPe’s isolation and has a postlude in its turn that makes a satisfying ending to the entire cycle. I was glad to make the acquaintance of this intelligent and extremely well-scored cycle. Benjamin Hulett is a satisfying soloist, alive to its shifting moods.
Andreae’s Concertino for oboe and orchestra dates from ten years later (1941) and was written for Marcel Saillet, the principal oboist of the Zurich Tonhalle orchestra. Andreae conducted them in the world premiere that December; in 1946, the same forces would give the world premiere of Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. While not quite the equal of the Strauss, the repertoire of good works for oboe and orchestra is not so large that Andreae’s Concertino deserves to be overlooked, for at 20 minutes it’s practically the size of a full-scale concerto and is a captivating, predominantly thoughtful work. The big first movement, a good deal longer than the other two combined, is in a ternary form, lyrical outer sections with oboe writing of wonderful plasticity enclosing a short virtuosic Presto. The second movement an entrancing intermezzo and the finale a vigorous, dance-like Rondo. The soloist is John Anderson, who seizes the opportunity to display both his powers of bravura and of beautiful tone.
Almost half the disc, though, is given up to Andreae’s early Symphony in F major (1898-1900), a work he discarded after a number of performances. (His only official symphony was the work in C of 30 year later, included on the first disc of Guild’s series — Volumes 1 and 2 were reviewed in March 2012 and April 2013 respectively.) While not quite a student work, the F major finds Andreae balanced on the horns of the dilemma – Brahms or Wagner? – that exercised so many Germanophone young composers just at the turn of the century. The most impressive portion of the work is the slow second movement, much more Wagnerian (and Brucknerian) than Brahmsian; its restrained opening brass chorale develops into a processional of considerable plangency. In suppressing this fine movement Andreae’s self-criticism seems to me to have overstepped the mark: if he was not to retain the work as a whole as his `Symphony No. 1′, perhaps the movement could have been kept as independent orchestral elegy. The scherzo is striking in its way too — quite short and alternating two distinct ideal — a mellifluous Brahmsian waltz with a faster, more rambunctious dance that I can describe only as a kind of Swiss furiant. The outer movements are both in sonata-form; the first is lyrical and bucolic, with a deftly assimilated development section; the finale — which begins with some very Brucknerian-sounding fugal material — has, as the second subject, the best tune in the Symphony, which punctually achieves apotheosis before the end. Perhaps on balance Andreae was right to leave the work unpublished (and unperformed beyond 1901), but it’s very pleasant to make its acquaintance now. His grandson Marc Andreae directs a performance full of affection and with a sure eye and ear for the work’s large-scale architecture.
This is another absorbing and rewarding release in this Guild series, which is certainly helping to establish Andreae as a significant Swiss composer of the first half of the twentieth century.
Calum MacDonald

Gramophone – Mai 2014

This Guild series devoted to the Swiss conductor-composer Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962) is proving so comprehensive that it’s not always easy to discern the wood from the trees. It would be easy to overlook the modest Concertino (1941) tucked away at the end of this disc and assume that the main event must be the large-scale Symphony (1898-1900). In fact that piece turns out to be an impersonal student exercise. While its craftsmanship is never in doubt, Brahms looms so large that its revival feels redundant. The composition predates Andreae’s life-changing encounter with Bruckner’s Third Symphony under the baton of Richard Strauss.
Andreae composed his Li-Tai-Pe songs in 1930-31, his spare use of a relatively large orchestra presenting the first of several parallels with Gustav Mahler. Hans Bethge’s translations of the poet he called Li-Po were among those which inspired Das Lied von der Erde and it was Julius Patzak, a noted interpreter of the Mahler, who gave the first performance of Andreae’s cycle. Benjamin Hulett has a suitably fresh and elegant voice with a more pronounced vibrato than common in his English tenor peer group.
Better still, in its way, is Andreae’s unpretentious Concertino, completed in 1941. The opening goes particularly well, John Anderson’s solo line keening atmospherically over brooding string chords that sound surprisingly contemporary, somewhere between VW’s Oboe Concerto and a Thomas Newman film score. The harmony quickly becomes more orthodox, there’s a puckish middle section and the gentler mood returns.
Perhaps the finale succumbs a litde too readily to conventional light-music bussle; the second movement offers more distinctive folkish invention. Strauss subsequently had his own Oboe Concerto premiered by the same soloist, Marcel Saillet, but there’s no reason why its burbling nostalgia should not occasionally be stilled in favour of Andreae’s oddly English-sounding idyll. Its scoring has a distinctly un-Germanic clarity and reticence. Presumably he directed Debussy as well as Bruckner during his 43-year Zurich tenure.
The performances are assured, the Sound good and the annotations detailed, with texts and translations provided. Marc Andreae is the composer-conductor’s grandson, and he does a fine job.
David Gutman

MusicWeb International – May 2014

This is the third volume (vol. 1; vol. 2) in the Volkmar Andreae series from Guild and it presents three world premiere recording, all presided over by the composer’s grandson, conductor Marc Andreae. Charting a chronological course we start with the Symphony in F major, which was completed in 1900 when the composer was barely twenty-one. It’s couched in four movements, conventionally-styled, and lasts 37 minutes in this performance. Though the booklet notes ask us not to make much of Brahms’s influence, this is surely an impossible instruction to follow. It’s like asking a cat not to chase a mouse. This is a very Brahmsian work, in terms of thematic development and sonority, and many passages will alert one to the influence of the older composer on the student one. Andreae shows a firm control of his material and handles orchestration well – brass, lower strings and percussion in particular. If there is another influence it’s not Bruckner, whom Andreae was years later to champion as a conductor and whose splendid symphonic cycle I reviewed not so very long ago – and hugely admired, I should add. The other influence, at least in terms of the writing for winds, is Dvořák. The most interesting features of the work are the rather sombre march theme in the second movement and the auburn string tone in the finale, before the emergence of a triumphant chorale-like theme, and the symphony’s quiet resolution.
If the Symphony should be seen in the context of Andreae’s early development, Li-Tai-Pe, Eight Chinese Songs for tenor and orchestra, Op.37 is a product of his maturity. There’s considerable volatility here, both in terms of rhythmic vitality and also in the subtlety of the quietly reflective writing, deftly orchestrated, and illuminating the texts with real insight. The work suits the light tenor of Benjamin Hulett who negotiates the demands freshly and keenly. There are some moments of obvious chinoiserie in the wind writing but they are chosen to heighten the music, not to draw one’s ear for reasons of mere sonic titillation. The writing for strings is often refined and there are hints now and then of Mahler’s song cycles. All early performances of this work were given by the great Julius Patzak.
The final work is the Concertino for oboe and orchestra, Op.42, composed in 1941. This is a lovely, rather pastoral work that flows and muses, enshrining a more active, dynamic B section in the opening of its three movements. A perky Rondo is followed by a felicitous folkloric finale. The performance by John Anderson is extremely fine and as throughout the disc he is most sympathetically supported by Marc Andreae. Of the three works the Concertino is the most easy-going, the songs the most stringent and complex. But it’s the Concertino that most seduced me and I have to say it’s rather amazing that it’s never before been recorded. Incidentally no less a figure than Richard Strauss was later to dedicate his own Oboe Concerto to Andreae.
Uneven though this disc is, compositionally speaking (largely because of the Symphony), the third volume in this series brings with it very interesting and exciting features for the increasing number of Andreae admirers.
Jonathan Woolf

concerti.de – Mai 2014

Beeindruckende Synthese aus Brahms und Wagner: Der Schweizer Komponist Volkmar Andreae punktet mit Inspiration
Dem Schweizer Volkmar Andreae (1872 – 1962), seinerzeit ein berühmter Dirigent, gelangen beeindruckende Synthesen aus Brahms und Wagner. Sein Geheimnis: Inspiration. Andreae kopierte nicht nur die Kniffe der Großen, er hatte selbst etwas zu sagen. Das tat er auf etwas bequeme, ausführliche Art, und nur Hörer, die sich ebenfalls Zeit nehmen, werden die Schönheiten dieser Musik zu würdigen wissen. Andreaes im Jahre 1900 vollendete, bei allem Lyrismus durchaus packende F-Dur-Sinfonie muss sich hinter anderen Schweizer Gattungsbeiträgen von Huber und Brun nicht verstecken, allein Raff und Honegger gingen energischer zu Werke. Das verträumte Concertino für Oboe entstand wenige Jahre vor dem Oboenkonzert von Strauss, das Andreae gewidmet ist und von diesem auch uraufgeführt wurde. Erfreulich atmosphärische, einfühlsame Interpretationen. Merci vielmol!
Volker Tarnow

MusicWeb International – April 2014

Guild’s single-handed Andreae project continues to shed enlightenment on the music of a man known, if at all, as a conductor of Swiss nationality. There are plenty of other examples of musicians prominently recognised as conductors but who also composed. The roster includes Klemperer, Walter, Goossens, Furtwängler and Weingartner. Who knows; in years to come some of them may attain the status of being known primarily as composers who also happened to conduct.
The present Symphony is his first and one that despite its evident merits the composer remained dissatisfied with. He omitted to attach an opus number to it. It does not have the mien of a youthful indiscretion. Its demeanour is that of a no holds barred epic with a 12 minute Adagio mined from an imaginative seam of the highest quality. There is a flighty Intermezzo that in part reminded me of Brahms’ Third Symphony but which has all the effervescence of Mendelssohn’s Italian. The finale continues the serenely confident mood of that remarkable Adagio but with a shuddering energy reminiscent of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Speaking of confidence: Andreae takes the risk of ending on a sustained smiling downbeat.
The Li-Tai-Pe songs are for tenor and orchestra and date from three decades after the symphony. These Chinese poems were published in translation by Hans Bethge in 1907. The same collection also found favour to even greater fame with Gustav Mahler whose Das Lied von der Erde set poems from the same source. These are also the same poems that in English translations attracted settings by Bliss, Lambert, Arthur Oldham and Reginald Redman, although they referred to the poet as Li-Tai-Po. As with the 1900 symphony the music is tonal but now the Brahmsian weeds have been cast off in favour of greater transparency. Generally the textures are more open and even impressionistic – all birdsong, butterfly wings, drifting clouds and swooning moons. Not only has Andreae learnt from Mahler but also from Zemlinsky in his Lyric Symphony. After the sinister intimations of The Dance on the Cloud comes the utterly lovely Abschied. Then there’s the subtle and expressionistic melancholy of The Great White Egret,the final words of which are “I stand lonely by the edge of the pond / Peering silently across the land.” Shades of Warlock’s Curlew. The words are most sensitively sung by Benjamin Hulett.
The poems are:- I The Song of Sorrow [3:04] / II. Wanderer Awakens in the Hostel [3:55] / III. The Fisherman in Spring [4:08] / IV. On the Banks of the Yo-Yeh [2:07] / V. Si-schy [2:12] / VI. The Dance on the Cloud [1:08] / VII. Farewell [3:28] / VIII. The Great White Egret [2:01]
The Oboe Concertino dates from the darkest depths of the Second World War. This is a work of reflective contentment with long sun-warmed lyrical lines and dancing delight. It is strikingly attractive with no obstacles to appreciation. Parts of it reminded me of Othmar Schoeck’s magical Sommernacht.
The supporting notes are by Robert Matthew-Walker and these are also given in German translation.
Guild’s Volkmar Andreae Edition has already given us the concertos, the 1919 symphony, the piano trios, the string and flute quartets and some of the songs. I do hope that there will be more Andreae to come from this source. There’s an opera Ratcliff and various works for voices and orchestra.
Rob Barnett

Classic CD Choice – www.cdchoice.co.uk – April 2014

This is the latest volume in Guild’s intriguing series of recordings of the music of the Swiss composer and conductor Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962), and the third of his orchestral music. The discs in the series are all conducted by the composer’s grandson Marc Andreae, granting the performances a certain authority. These are all new recordings, set down in England with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. As in previous issues, there is much impressive music here alongside some more quotidian writing.

Klassik.com – März 2014

Voller Einsatz für den Opa – Drei völlig unbekannte Werke des Schweizers Volkmar Andreae stellen in dieser überwiegend gelungenen Interpretation eine willkommene Entdeckung dar.
Glück im Unglück: Volkmar Andreae hat einen Enkel, Marc Andreae, und der arbeitet mit dem schweizerischen Label Guild fleißig an einer Gesamteinspielung der Orchesterwerke seines Opas. Bei Folge drei ist er jetzt angekommen. Ansonsten ist auf CD nämlich wenig von ihm erhältlich, denn Volkmar Andreae ist einer jener Komponisten, die mit ihrer konservativen Musiksprache im 20. Jahrhundert untergegangen sind – oder doch wenigstens über regionalen Ruhm nicht hinausgekommen.
Marc Andreae ist selbst inzwischen in großväterlichem Alter; er wird dieses Jahr 75. Die Aufnahmen verwirklicht er mit dem Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, und das spielt, wenn auch nicht immer absolut erstklassig, so doch mehr als solide und mit schönem Klang. Auf der neuen Platte findet man mit der Symphonie in F-Dur ein kurz vor 1900 entstandenes Frühwerk, einen Liederzyklus von 1931 und mit dem Oboenkonzert op. 42 von 1941 bereits eines der letzten Werke Andreaes. Für seine Zeit schreibt Andreae wohl etwas konventionell, jedenfalls erhebt er keinen Anspruch, radikal Neues zu wagen und hatte ganz offenbar mit atonalen Tendenzen nichts am Hut. Stattdessen setzt er auf einen Ausbau der Tradition – das aber ziemlich überzeugend.
Auf die Nähe zu Brahms wird im Beiheft besonders für die Symphonie hingewiesen, und schließlich war der ja auch gerade mal ein Jahr tot, als Andreae mit der Komposition des Werkes begann. Und es gibt sie tatsächlich, die an Brahms erinnernden Stellen, doch immer wieder fallen auch Techniken und Klänge auf, die für Brahms überhaupt nicht typisch sind und auch sonst kein Vorbild im 19. Jahrhundert zu haben scheinen, für dessen Ende jedoch nicht unpassend wirken.
Von der Monumentalität eines Mahler und Richard Strauss ist die Symphonie allerdings weit entfernt. Sie ist längst nicht so spektakulär angelegt wie deren Schöpfungen, wirkt aber dafür ausgesprochen sympathisch.
Der Liederzyklus op. 37 enthält acht chinesische Lieder nach Li-Tai-Pe für Tenor und Orchester in einer deutschen Nachdichtung von Klabund. Benjamin Huletts deutsche Aussprache ist leider nicht besonders gut. Stimmlich weckt er keine Begeisterung, ist aber akzeptabel. Seine Gestaltung allerdings lässt leider nicht erkennen, ob er den Text versteht.
Den Solopart im Concertino für Oboe und Orchester bläst John Anderson makellos. Das Werk ist, seiner Entstehung während des Zweiten Weltkriegs zum Trotz, von idyllischer Stimmung. Besonders hervorzuheben ist der langsame Satz, eine Serenade in wiegendem 6/8-Takt, in der die Oboe nacheinander mit einigen Solobläsern des Orchesters und einer Sologeige in Dialog tritt, und sämtliche Solopartien werden sehr schön gespielt. Das Orchestertutti hat hier quasi nichts zu sagen.
Der Klang der Platte ist zwar eindeutig weniger brillant als viele neue Orchesteraufnahmen, aber keineswegs unbefriedigend. Das Beiheft enthält gute Einführungstexte und die vertonten Gedichte.
Jan KampmeierVoller Einsatz für den Opa
Drei völlig unbekannte Werke des Schweizers Volkmar Andreae stellen in dieser überwiegend gelungenen Interpretation eine willkommene Entdeckung dar.
Jan Kampmeier