GMCD 7420 – Fritz Brun – Cello Concerto, Choral Works, Five Songs

Claudius Herrmann (violoncello), Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, Štefan Filas (concertmaster), Adriano (conductor)

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MusicWeb International Nov. 2016

Guild’s Fritz Brun series is approaching double figures. For now, admirers of the Swiss composer will have to rest content with volume nine which contains his 1947 Cello Concerto and three much earlier pieces for mixed forces. Once again Adriano steers the musicians with a practiced hand.
Some critics at the time termed the Concerto a lyric symphony with cello obbligato, a perceptive but not wholly plausible view. Of the symphonic architecture there could be little complaint given Brun’s stature as a symphonist. But in this work his soloist traverses the expressive land from assertive to reticent, sometimes more or less discursively, a journey Brun facilitates by allowing the cello’s full register to sound. There is plenty of rich material for the winds and plenty of lyrical writing for the cellist. There’s certainly a Brahmsian cast to much of the declamatory writing – not least in terms of rhythm, and orchestral density of sound – but Brun retains his own identity in the concentrated richness of the slow movement and the high-spirited finale where some pawky material alerts one to Brun’s dry humour – and where, again, hints of Brahms’ Double Concerto resurface. Claudius Herrmann is the excellent soloist.
Verheissung, for mixed choir, orchestra and organ was composed in 1915 and doubtless informed by the turbulent European war. It’s a rather imposing piece, chromatic and polyphonic, in five sections, with a sagacious gravity that turns dramatic, jubilant and affirmative. As there are no texts in the booklet – and assuming your recall of Goethe is not wholly secure – you’ll have to scout all the texts elsewhere, something of a bore. The more compact Grenzen der Menschheit (the text is again by Goethe) is a more obviously conventional piece composed in 1932. The original setting was for a cappella male choir but the voice-and-orchestra setting emphasises darker and more gloomy voicings.
The Five Songs for voice and piano is heard in a Brahmsian arrangement made by Adriano for voice and string sextet. The dense harmonies in the original are certainly well served by the weightier depth of string tone. Despite this there are some truly diaphanous moments even when the texts are at their most pessimistic, and Brun’s lighter side is accommodated too. Bernadett Fodor is a real mezzo and negotiates these elements admirably.
Adriano’s notes – in English and German – are extensive and heavy with pinpoint information.
Jonathan Woolf

Tages-Anzeiger, 24 September 2016

Adrianos Fritz-Brun-Projekt ist abgeschlossen
Den Anfang von Fritz Bruns Cellokonzert müssten sich Krimiproduzenten anhören: Die ersten Takte wären perfekt für den Moment vor der Tat. Das Insistieren der Bläser auf einem einzigen Ton; die düsteren Attacken der tiefen Streicher; die Suspense, die über dem Ganzen liegt.
Dass das Stück nun erstmals auf CD greifbar ist, dafür hat der nur unter seinem Vornamen figurierende Dirigent und Komponist Adriano gesorgt. Er hatte schon immer eine Vorliebe für die Vergessenen und Verkannten; und er hat diese Vorliebe neben seiner Tätigkeit als Maestro suggeritore im Souffleurkasten des Opernhauses mit ebenso viel Hartnäckigkeit wie Einfühlung gepflegt. So hat er – neben vielem anderem – in den vergangenen Jahren mit höchst engagierten Orchestern aus Moskau- und Bratislava sämtliche Sinfonien von Fritz Brun (1878-1959) eingespielt, der zu den schillerndsten Persönlichkeiten der Schweizer Musikgeschichte gehört.
Geboren in Luzern, war der Komponist, Pianist und Dirigent Brun unter anderem Harmoniumspieler im Luzerner Gefängnis, Klavierlehrer des Prinzen Georg von Preussen in Berlin, Variété-Musiker in London und Italienischlehrer für Sänger in Dortmund. Seine Lebens-aufgabe fand er dann in Bern, wo er mit dem Sinfonieorchester, dem Cäcilienverein und der Berner Liedertafel gleich drei Institutionen leitete. Von 1909 bis 1941 dauerte seine Berner Zeit, die nicht immer eine einfache war; es kam durchaus vor, dass die Musiker murrten, wenn Brun seine eigenen Werke aufs Programm setzte.
Man kann es verstehen. Brun hielt nichts von Easy Listening und auch nichts von Easy Playing; seine Musik ist komplex, mehrbödig, nie nur süffig. So tief er in der Vergangenheit verwurzelt war, so sehr ihn Brahms’ Melodik oder Wagners Harmonien geprägt haben – er verband die Einflüsse zu einem eigenwilligen, eruptiven Stil, der wohl einiges über seinen Schöpfer verrät.
Inzwischen sind seine Werke verschwunden aus dem Konzertleben. Ein Fehler, findet Adriano, und seine Aufnahme des Cellokonzerts (mit dem Opernhaus-Cellisten Claudius Herrmann und dem Bratislava Symphony Orchestra) gibt ihm recht. Die anfängliche Krimiatmosphäre wird rasch abgelöst von anderen musikalischen Stimmungen; aber so heterogen das Ganze sein mag, so straff und geschickt hat Brun es zusammengefügt. Fast postmodern klingt das manchmal – und verblüffend frisch, auch im Vergleich zu den Chorwerken, die ebenfalls auf dieser CD zu finden sind.
Schliesslich sind da noch die von Bernadett Fodor gesungenen Lieder, deren Begleitung Adriano für Streichsextett bearbeitet hat: lyrische, innige, hoch expressive Belege dafür, dass Bruns Zeitgenosse Othmar Schoeck bei weitem nicht der einzige begabte Schweizer Liedkom-ponist war. Im Gegenteil, es gab noch mehr davon: Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) etwa, dem Adrianos nächstes CD-Projekt gilt, das er mit der Sopranistin Elena Mosuc anpacken wird. Auf dass noch, ein weiteres vergessenes Stück Schweizer Musikgeschichte sich in Klang zurückverwandle.
Susanne Kühler

MusicWeb International July 2016

Here are the concluding volumes in the Brun-Adriano-Guild series. They bring to a triumphant close what has been an epic enterprise which began with sessions in Moscow in 2005. The Guild discs complement Adriano’s recording of Brun’s Symphony No. 3 made by Sterling in 2003.

Some may know of Brun’s Symphony No. 8 from a mono radio recording from 1946 in which the composer conducts. This was issued by Guild in 2009. That historic document will always have a library presence given the composer’s involvement. The present recording is endued with all the benefits of a modern recording which reflects back lots of detail as well as fullness of tone. That tonal repletion suits this score. Brun’s writing is solidly Brahmsian, expansive and late-romantic. The first movement has a galloping horn-led chasseur quality but regularly succumbs to reflection. There’s a smooth and peaceful Adagio followed by a Notturno which includes a most engaging melody for (I think) bass clarinet. The finale is again a Brahms-like Allegro non troppo. That ‘non troppo’ speaks volumes about Brun’s mood and its treatment. Contours are smooth and grandeur, even sternness, is attained but rather like Dvořák and Nielsen there’s nothing in the way of scorch or tragedy. It’s an enjoyable picturesque symphony in which ideas and moods are explored across long paragraphs. Adriano and his well-rehearsed orchestra and engineers respect this. They carry a heavy burden given that these symphonies are to all intents and purposes being introduced for the first time to the listening public.

The Three Schoeck lieder, as orchestrated by Brun, set poems by poets of the German Golden Age. They are downbeat, gloomy, melancholy and strikingly atmospheric with an occasional sinister shading, as in the Lenau setting. This narrow mood range is typical of Schoeck’s songs and Brun is a faithful conspirator in serving and accentuating this. Bernadett Fodor is commandingly forthright; nothing short of operatic. The Keller song is the longest here and both orchestration and substantive lines benefit from what communicates as a sustained sunset – glowing not dazzling and certainly not blazing. The songs were written by Schoeck in 1915-16 and Brun’s orchestration of the songs was premiered in 1916.

The booklet provides neither texts nor translations of the poems set in the three lieder on GMCD 7421. Instead it refers readers to the Guild website. I could not find them when I looked on 2 July 2016. As with all three discs reviewed here, the booklet supplies extensive essays (English and German) by Adriano – a dedicated and well informed conductor – who has invested much of himself in this project. The writing is edited by Ian Lace.

Guild GMCD7420 presents Brun’s late three-movement Cello Concerto. This has a streaming Brahmsian fluency mixed with just a tint of folk feeling. The similarities are with the Hamburg composer’s Second and Fourth symphonies and his two string instrument concertos. This concerto has the songful and the soulful apportioned between orchestra and solo with neither having a monopoly. Brun often favours lyrical rhapsody but there is a measure of drama in the finale. The completely engaged soloist, Claudius Herrmann, enjoys a moderately forwardly placement.

Speaking of stompingly, exuberantly coloured drama there’s plenty in Brun’s setting of Goethe’s Verheissung (“The Promised Land”) as well as gentler qualities. It’s very impressive and is reminiscent of Delius in A Mass of Life and, in its militant moments, of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 4. Here is a stirring, concentrated work that says much in less than ten minutes. The piece ends in a great ecstatic blaze. It’s just a pity that the words and translation have not been included in the booklet. I couldn’t find them on the Guild site either.

There’s more Goethe with Grenzen der Menschheit. This short piece, written seventeen years after Verheissung, is stirring, even aggressive, with a sense of colossal German magnificence about it but without ‘letting go’ in quite the way we experience with Verheissung.

Then come five Brun lieder sung by the admirably steady and emotive Bernadett Fodor. Adriano has taken the original piano part and redistributed it for string sextet. Lebensgenuss has operatic reach while the slightly more expressionistic accents of Die Entschlafenen are more emotionally disengaged. Abendständchen serenades the listener but steers clear of unremitting simplicity with autumnal tints. The final two songs are cool, thoughtful and, in the case of Es wehet kühl und leise, elusive.

The liner-note is very detailed – up to Toccata Classics standards. It’s good to be offered so much. The music is well played and sung. It should appeal to those already hooked on Brun but also to those who enjoy Schoeck and Marx.
Rob Barnett