Reviews

GMCD 7303 – 20th Century Swiss String Quartets with the casalQUARTETT Zurich

casalQUARTETT Zurich – Markus Fleck & Daria Zappa – Violins, Dominik Fischer – Viola, Andreas Fleck – Cello

To the CD in our Shop


Klassikcom  Saturday May 26 2007

Drei Schweizer Streichquartette
Interpretation

Klangqualität

Repertoirewert

Booklet

 

Allgemein bekannte schweizerische Komponisten gibt es ohnehin nicht so viele; die drei hier vorgestellten Vertreter würden einem zudem – wenn überhaupt – wohl kaum als erste einfallen. Das sagt aber über die Qualität ihres Schaffens nichts aus; ganz im Gegenteil: alle drei verdienten zweifelsohne mehr Aufmerksamkeit im Konzertbetrieb. Die 2004 und 2005 entstandene Einspielung von drei Streichquartetten, die das Schweizer Label Guild unter dem Titel ‚20th Century Swiss String Quartets’ veröffentlicht hat, bestätigt dieses. Im Falle von Hans Schaeuble (1906-1988) und Meinrad Schütter (1910-2006) muss man die Wirren des Zweiten Weltkriegs als Grund ansehen, dass frühe Erfolge zunichte gemacht und jegliche Kontinuität in der Rezeption unterbrochen wurde. Schaeuble, der in Deutschland gelebt und gewirkt hatte, wurde zudem nach seiner Rückkehr in die Heimat eben dieses zur Last gelegt. Erich Schmid schließlich hinterließ generell nur ein sehr schmales, qualitativ aber hochwertiges Œuvre. Wer mehr wissen möchte, findet im optisch sehr ansprechend gestalteten Booklet eine prägnante Einführung in die drei Biographien.
Kinder ihrer Zeit
Alle drei Komponisten sind durchaus Kinder ihrer Zeit; stilistisch zeigen sie in ihren Quartetten verschieden ausgeprägtem Maße eine Auseinandersetzung mit der zeitgenössischen Musik, insbesondere mit der Schönbergschen Zwölftontechnik. Die plausible Anordnung der Werke auf der CD führt dabei vom neoklassizistisch gemäßigten, eher an Hindemith erinnernden Quartett op. 19 Schaeubles über das freitonale Quartett Meinrad Schütters hin zu Erich Schmids Streichquartett op. 4, das konsequent in Reihentechnik gehalten ist. Ausdrucksstark und musikalisch empfunden sind dabei alle drei Quartette; auch Schmids Zwölftonwerk hat anrührende Momente, wenn sie auch eher auf einer zerbrechlich schlanken Klanglichkeit basieren denn auf der robusten Expressivität Schaeubles.
Frische und Engagement
Das deutsch-schweizerische casalQUARTETT bietet spieltechnisch blitzsaubere und interpretatorisch überzeugende Darbietungen aller drei Werke. Der in jedem Quartett durchaus verschiedene Grundton wird zielsicher getroffen; die Darbietungen sind von großer Frische und getragen vom spürbaren Engagement der vier – streng genommen fünf – Musiker (Daria Zappa und Rachel R. Späth, Violine; Markus Fleck, Violine und Viola; Dominik Fischer, Viola; Andreas Fleck, Violoncello). Klangtechnisch präsentieren sich die Quartette in gutem Licht, das Klangbild ist sehr natürlich und insbesondere plastisch, man wähnt sich geradezu mitten im Geschehen. Lediglich das Cello kommt etwas zu basslastig herüber. Summa summarum eine interessante und für Streichquartettfreunde bedenkenlos empfehlenswerte CD, die mit drei stilistisch selbständigen Werken entsprechend reiche Entdeckungen bietet. Schade nur, dass sie mit etwa 56 Minuten ein wenig kurz geraten ist.
Christian Vitalis

International Record Review November 2006

One might, in flippant mood, label this `a collection of twentieth-century string quartets by three Swiss composers beginning with Sch-, though none of them is called Schoeck’; nevertheless all three deserve to be better known than they are.
Hans Schaeuble (1906-88) is a curious, in some lights slightly pathetic figure. He studied in Germany in the 1920s and lived in Berlin from the early 1930s to 1942. It was in Germany that he found a congenial artistic climate and his only period of sustained success, when his music was taken up by Carl Schuricht, among others. There is no evidence that Schaeuble had Nazi sympathies, but he was certainly an ardent admirer of German culture, and the fact that he resided in Germany, had his music played and accepted commissions during the first decade of the Third Reich did him no good at all an his eventual return to Switzerland. Encountering considerable hostility an this account – though it may also have been a convenient cloak for prejudice against the fact that he was gay, and a man of comfortable means – Schaeuble found it much more difficult to secure performances and his artistic drive faltered: he seems to have spent the last part of his career in obsessive revisions and reworkings of his earlier works.
However, the works of Schaeuble that I’ve previously heard – such as his motets to words by Pestalozzi, also on Guild, and his concerto grosso-like Music for Two Violins and String Orchestra, an MGB – are the expressions of a genuine talent charting his own path among the conflicting artistic currents of the time. His basic stance is neo-Classical (Hindemith is a palpable, though not slavishly followed influence), bat he sometimes uses 12-note rows in a wholly melodic fashion; and his harmony and clean textures often sound to British ears very ‘English’, somewhere between Vaughan Williams and Tippett, say. The neo-Classicism and intermittent ‘Englishness’ are apparent in his Op. 19 String Quartet. In fact Schaeuble’s original title was ‘Music for String Quartet’, which better evokes the work’s suite-like, informal qualities. There’s no big sonata-allegro; some of the five movements seem shortwinded; on the other hand repeated changes of character, from neo-Baroque to motoric Modernism to more romantic slow music, seem to be what the piece is about – the various tendencies are summed up in the finale, the most extensive movement of all. Altogether it’s an attractive, unpretentious piece.
Meinrad Schütter, who died in January this year aged 95 – I met hem briefly five years ago at a symposium in Switzerland (where Schaeuble’s Quartet was performed) and was impressed by his leonine, patriarchal appearance – has been little known outside Switzerland, though he studied with Dallapiccola and Hindemith and was performed by Hermann Scherchen. His String Quartet is the most recent piece an the disc, dating from 1990, with subsequent revision, and is in a more classical four-movement form than Schaeuble’s. Motivically dense and continually polyphonic, it displays an individual, freely chromatic idiom, obviously influenced by 12-tone technique bat never rigorously structured and often with strong tonal reference. Both rich and concentrated, this is music of long experience and sure command of its techniques that rewards repeated hearings.
Erich Schmid (1907-2000) is best remembered as a conductor who was devoted to contemporary music – he was director of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and the orchestra of Radio Beromünster, and often worked in Great Britain with the LSO and BBC Symphony, as well as being principal guest conductor of the CBSO in the late 1970s, His early ambitions were to be a composer, however, and most of his works date from the 1920s and 1930s. After study in Frankfurt he became a member of Arnold Schoenberg’s Berlin Masterclass in 1930-31, and it was under Schoenberg’s eye that he produced his Op. 4 String Quartet. Though subtitled `in modo classico’ this is the least obviously tonal of the three works here. It’s a closely worked and expertly written 12-tone score in three movements, in which Schmid builds larger forms than either Schaeuble or Schütter. While not a major find, it gives off a definite impression of creative juices in full flood, and is interesting for the extent to which Schoenberg’s own Third Quartet, Op. 30 (1927) is a very clear model.
A few years ago Tempo magazine featured some of Schmid’s reminiscences of his participation in the Schoenberg masterclass, translated and edited by Chris Walton; they include a story about Schmid’s Quartet and Schoenberg which you won’t find in Katharina Bruns’s efficient bat not always well-translated notes with this Guild release. Schoenberg thought Schmid’s first draft of the piece was ‘too rigid’ and immediately started recomposing, showing how parts could be improved: when Schmid shyly pointed out that Schoenberg’s changes were violating the order of the 12-tone row he was using, Schoenberg retorted: ‘Well, then you’ll have to change the row, won’t you?’! The article included a facsimile of part of the Quartet’s manuscript, with one of Schoenberg’s annotations: from which I can inform prospective buyers of this disc that it was he who composed the lyrical viola melody that begins 1’35” into Schmid’s first movement.
The German-Swiss casalQUARTETT Zurich, despite their tricksy typography, prove to be a thoroughly accomplished young ensemble (their personnel is slightly different for the Schmid from that for the other two items). They seem well attuned to the three rather different Idioms of these works, and Guild has provided them with a very lively and pleasant acoustic. For the curious and those of an exploratory nature, perhaps, but this is an interesting and enjoyable release none the less.
Calum MacDonald

Three quartets fascinating in their variety though the Schmid and Schutter are clearly the work of adherents of the true Schoenbergian temple. Schaeuble is the romantic in this company … Rob Barnett
These Swiss composers were near-contemporaries, all born between 1906 and 1910; but their musical outlook is quite varied.
Hans Schaeuble, probably the only name that may be familiar, wrote in an accessible, if at times stringent Neo-classical idiom clearly to be heard in his Flute Concertino Op.47 – on Guild GMCD 7250 – and in his Musik für Streichquartett Op.19. This piece is more a suite in five movements than a closely argued string quartet. The opening movement actually functions as a short prelude. The second movement in moderate tempo, mostly gently flowing, is followed by a brisk Scherzo abruptly cut short. The fourth movement is the emotional core and a beautiful song without words. The final movement is an extended rondo with a slower central section, a reprise and is capped by a varied restatement of the prelude, ending on a quiet note.
Meinrad Schütter is a name new to me. He studied in Zurich and later spent a year in Rome where he got in touch with Dallapiccola and twelve-tone music. Later still and back in Switzerland, he studied with Hindemith. Although he was active as ballet répétiteur at the Zurich Opera, he managed to compose an extensive output in almost every genre most of which is little known. The String Quartet, completed in 1990 and revised in 1996, is his second and final work for the medium. The piece is in four movements: a strongly contrapuntal Andante made of short contrasting fragments set out in a kaleidoscopic manner. The ensuing Allegretto inhabits a tenser harmonic world, again full of abrupt contrasts. The short Mässig bewegt that follows, functions as a short, half-lit Scherzo, whereas the final movement is similar in design to the first movement. Actually, the main impression derived from listening to Schütter’s second string quartet is that the music never seems sure as to the direction it should take, and often confronts disparate elements without ever trying to reconcile them. Therefore, it is not always easy to make out its progress. For all its merits the music fails to satisfy; but I would like to hear more of it, were it only to confirm – or not – my first impressions.
In about 1925, Erich Schmid heard Hermann Suter conduct Schönberg’s choral work Friede auf Erden which made a strong impression on the young man and which eventually led him to study with Schönberg in Berlin. Schmid was later much active as a conductor. He left a limited output of some sixteen works. His String Quartet “in modo classico” Op.4 was composed during his studies with Schönberg. However, the subtitle is misleading, for the music is mostly chromatic, atonal in a way reminiscent of Schönberg and Berg. The central movement, a distorted Waltz, brings Berg’s Lyric Suite to mind. The music is clearly influenced by Schönberg and the so-called Second Viennese School, although obviously not by Webern’s brevity and austerity. I find it an impressive achievement and a piece of considerable substance; undoubtedly a much finer work than the Schütter quartet. I do not know any of Schmid’s other works; but I would certainly like to, if any is as fine as this string quartet.
Guild Music have already devoted several releases to 20th century Swiss music. These have shed light on some little-known byways of Swiss music. I sincerely hope that they will continue exploring the works of Swiss composers, who are still too little-known outside their native country. Conrad Beck, for example, badly deserves some recognition. This release is well worth exploring for the quality of the music and for excellent readings by players, who are new to me but who clearly believe in the music.
Hubert Culot
And a further perspective from Rob Barnett ….
Schaeuble is on this evidence a neo-classical lyricist; definitely a ‘wet’. He was born in Arosa and grew up under the ‘tuition’ of the Ansermet-OSR concert series. Formal musical education came in Leipzig alongside fellow students Fortner and Distler. He spent many years in Berlin and they coincided with the rise of National Socialism. Even though he departed Berlin in 1942 and returned to Switzerland he remained an easy mark for criticism on the grounds of Nazi sympathies. His five movement quartet is properly titled Music for String Quartet Op. 19. While his later works, including the 1949 Piano Concerto, show the imprint of the 12-tone series this work has more in common with neo-classical Stravinsky and Hindemith. Apposite balance of instrumental parts, great clarity and a predilection for brief lyrical asides are mixed with superbly original eerie writing in the Schnell and baroque filigree in the final two movements. The olden times are dispelled in the last few minutes of the finale and we return to the earnest and almost regretful mood of the Breit first movement.
Meinrad Schütter was born in Chur. He studied at various times with Dallapiccola, Burkhard and Hindmith. The quartet is surprisingly recent. His music-making is dense and dissonant favouring juxtaposition of fragments and proceeding through contrast and intriguing timbre and tonality. It is quite a short work and if overall it is not ingratiating the final Andante allegretto shows, if fleetingly, a redemptive lyrical tendency.
Erich Schmid was perhaps better known as a conductor. His compositions extend to only sixteen pieces mostly written in the 1930s. He was very much a Schoenberg pupil having studied with the Master in Berlin in 1930 and 1931. He returned to Switzerland in front of the malign bow-wave of the Nazi ascent. He succeeded Volkmar Andreae at the Tonhalle in 1949. He was chief conductor at Beromunster (1957-1962) and his radio broadcast of the Frankel violin concerto with Max Rostal was issued on Rococo. He was active with the BBC house orchestras. I have a tape of him conducting the BBC Northern in Chausson’s Poème de l’amour at de la Mer with Norma Burrows. Clearly he had an accommodatingly catholic range as I also have a tape of his conducting the Atterburg Violin Concerto. Nevertheless Katharina Bruns in her extensive notes points to his avant-garde advocacy in the radio studio and concert hall. His compositions are serial and extremely polished. His string quartet is polished but leaves little impression on the emotions.
Three quartets fascinating in their variety though the Schmid and Schutter are clearly the work of adherents of the true Schoenbergian temple. Schaeuble is the romantic in this company.
Rob Barnett