GMCD 7254 – Hesperos, 20th Century Songs – Switzerland

Michael Leibundgut – Bass, Ute Stoecklin – Piano

To the CD in our Shop

MusicWeb – Thursday December 26 02

This CD consists of twelve songs, settings of the great Eichendorff and written during the very darkest of times in 1917-18, by Othmar Schoeck. Seven selected songs written by Meinrad Schütter at times between 1931 and 1994 and taken from various song-cycles and finally the ‘Sappho Fragments’ completed earlier this year (2002) by Andrea Scartazzini. So the recording gives us a fascinating over-view of modern lieder by three of Switzerland’s leading 20th and 21st Century composers.
Michael Leibundgut is a young and very impressive talent. He has a rich and plaintive bass voice with a wonderful profundo register when needed and a beautiful top voice, which is perfectly at ease above the clef. His middle register rings sonorously and his performance is often breathtaking in its musicality and, at times, virtuosity, although more vocal colour is needed in the Schoeck songs. But supporting a fine singer there is always a fine accompanist as here. Never should the influence of the experienced Ute Stoecklin be overlooked; they make a fine team.
It seems to me to be quite true, as Ute Stoecklin points out in the very useful booklet notes, that a line of lieder composers can be clearly drawn from Schubert and Schumann, through Brahms into Wolf and Richard Strauss and then into Othmar Schoeck who, although his output is little known in Britain is very highly regarded by Germanic singers and quite rightly too. I cannot quite feel that the path should follow into Schütter’s work but given time Scartazzini, if he chooses to go down that line, may be included.
Schoeck is a Romantic composer and Eichendorff a Romantic poet although his dark vision of the beautiful first song ‘Loneliness of the forest’ using the forest as a backdrop to seeing the mother of God watching over us, is almost surreal. Schoeck does not attempt music that stretches tonality and certainly not in the way his contemporary Schoenberg was doing at that time, think of Erwartung (1909), but he knows how to write lyrically. It’s worth noting in passing that Schoeck composed about four hundred songs. Here songs 7-12 were written first in 1917, the first six coming from the following year. The melodic line is crucial to an understanding of all of his music.
Meinrad Schütter is a prolific composer in all genres but he obviously relishes the voice and is very sensitive to text. Here we have a very wide variety of poets including Rilke’s (d.1926) ‘Herbsttag’ (Autumn Day) and Albert Thelan (d.1989) Nachliche Lampe (Nocturnal lamp). As you listen through the songs, composed over an extraordinary sixty year span, the changing language of this composer (whom sadly I have not met before) becomes fascinatingly apparent. We are lead from the late-romantic ‘Dumonda’ (Request) of 1931 through to two songs from his cycle of 1994 ‘Chanzuns da la not’ with its partly spoken and partly sung lines and its totally independent piano part. These songs and the earlier ones like ‘Dumonda’ use the fascinating Rhaeto-Romanic language, a Romance language which seem to have a common link with Italian, Rumanian and French to name but three. It has been an official language of Switzerland since 1936.
Andrea Scartazzini takes Sappho whose work mainly survives in only a fragmentary state. I was much impressed with this rather austere cycle of six songs. The third, ‘Hesperos du bist der’ (Hesperos is the morning star) gives the CD its title. Evoking a far-off world, the composer accompanies a windy, folksy yet chromatic line, sung sotto voce by Leibundgut, by sounds from the inside the piano. The next song ‘The moon at dusk’ begins with the extreme high register of the instrument and, I think, its bottom note acting as an intermittent ostinato. The stuttery word-setting wanders nervously through the texture and just as its confidence is restored the fragment is over. The next song requires some discreet falsetto vocal work and the last some impressively deep humming before the words ‘It stood by my bedside’. The song’s sudden ending is also impressive.
The CD comes with texts, excellently translated, and essays also in French and German. The recording is vivid and immediate. Well worth investigating.
Gary Higginson

MusicWeb – Friday November 01.02

Guild have established themselves in a comparatively short time. They first crossed my field of view in 1997 with a series of releases which included Schoeck and Goossens CDs. They are based in Switzerland but with an official presence in St Helier in Jersey. Their products are as hallmarked as ASV, Chandos, Orfeo and Hyperion. The substance of what they offer is of great distinction and they strive for and usually attain exemplary aesthetic standards. Do have a look at their website.
This song recital is a successor to Guild’s admirable CD of Romantic Swiss songs reviewed earlier this year. Both discs are regrettably rather short in playing time – being less than sixty minutes – but in every other respect the qualities of both releases are high. Take for example the notes by pianist Ute Stoecklin and the fact that full texts are given in the original language (usually German though there is some Romanche – Switzerland’s official fourth language – as well) and in translation. The text is in clear type with none of the designer ‘finnickiness’ that ‘distinguishes’ quite a few classical releases.
The selection of songs charts the poles and tropics from Schoeck’s frank lyricism to Schütter’s expressionism to Scartazzini’s radiating experimentalism.
The Eichendorff lieder are from Schoeck’s comparatively early maturity. They are ripely romantic charting a heritage from Schumann: elegies, joy, ballads. Though Leibundgut is a bass he is young and currently his freshly produced voice has a golden baritonal patina. He recalls a young Fischer-Dieskau before vocal fatigue set in, hardening and calcifying. This is by no means a bass with cavernous depths. He is every bit the serenader. Highlights include the glowing lyrical contours of Winternacht and Waldeinsamkeit. There is some vocal strain in Im Wandern and in the heroic ascents of Lockung. Stoecklin, an attentive presence throughout (and remarkably open-minded given what she is called on to do in the Scartazzini songs) evokes the glitter and glimmer of star-shine and moonlight in both Nacht and Nachklang.
Schütter’s vocabulary is freer with dissonance amongst the melody. He indulges waywardly liberal tonality. His tendency is towards starry textures: Klimt-like and expressionistic. Zona dal plaschair is very dissonant with a spoken part. The voice seems lost in a dreamlike pierrot state in Favuogn. Scartazzini was a pupil of Rihm and Kelterborn. Here Leibundgut shows his attention to dynamics amid the freely tonal wanderings of Dieser morgen war. The piano writing is truly dissonant and the vocal line is almost muezzin-like. Scartazzini’s songs are about as far removed from Bantock’s Sappho songs (Hyperion) as you could imagine. The piano part in particular calls for Cage-ian techniques and the voice whispers, pitters, patters, groans (like a Tibetan lamasery cantor) and breathes.
The Scartazzini is unlikely to draw in the growing band of Schoeck fanciers. Those who take well to Scartazzini might well find Schoeck just too romantic. The expressionism of Schütter stands in the middle ground.
Rob Barnett