Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Viola Concerto (1934) [22.01]
Six Piano Pieces (1924-26) [13.02]
Violin Sonata (1941) ]15.37]
Trio (basset-horn, viola and cello) (1981) [12.37]
Quartet (violin, clarinet, cello and piano) (1937, rev 1971) [12.39]
Gerhard Wieser (viola)
Swiss Radio Orchestra, Beromünster/Edmond de Stoutz
Andrew Zolinsky (piano)
Roland Roberts (violin)
Alan Hacker (clarinet)
Miranda Davis (viola)
Oliver Gledhill (cello)
GUILD GMCD 7194 [79.26]
   Amazon US

Even the name's quaintly informative. It tells us that this composer was the youngest of a generation of Swiss composers who all became known internationally - eventually: Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957), Frank Martin (1890-1974) and Arthur Honegger (1892-1955). Paul Müller-Zürich was born in Zurich 21 June 1898, young enough to absorb the influence of these older composers as well as, more immediately, that of Busoni pupil, Philipp Jarnach whom he studied with. Jarnach is best known for completing his master's Doktor Faust in C minor, in 1925; whereas Anthony Beaumont has revised the whole to an emphatic E flat major gleam of hope. That tells you something about the expressionist-tinged late romanticism that also made up Jarnach's character. Busoni's living influence transmitted itself deeply enough for his Young Classicism to transmute into Müller-Zürich's neo-baroque modes.

Aesthetics aside it's Othmar Schoeck's sound-world that Müller-Zürich first evokes. The Six Piano Pieces (1924-26) move from that world - Schoeck's lieder without the words, perhaps. The first 'entrata' is suggested as almost a set of variations on Schoeck's Consolation for piano (1919). The most Schoeckian of all, is the second piece, Elegie: a rich evocation, tinged with individual melody. This really flowers later on. Towards the end of the cycle Bach pops up - perhaps reflecting that the two years of the cycle spanned a formative period. Here we find counterpoint, a move to angularity and a busier line. Late romanticism rather engorges this, and again it's that intriguing chromatic edge of Busoni's that comes to mind. This is late romanticism stretching a clenched fist of solidarity to Schoenberg, but athletic with neo-classic forefingers. Effective, but one misses the piano music Schoeck never got round to writing. Andrew Zolinsky's playing, and the piano sound are excellent.

Ten years later comes the bulk of the work on this disc. First, the 1965 ADD recording with Gerhard Wieser of the Viola Concerto in f minor Op 24 (1934), for me the most attractive work, together with the Piano Quartet and the second of the piano pieces. Hindemith had written two viola concertos before this, of course, in his Kammermusik, and their angularity is reflected here. Clearly both composers had mellowed by 1934 - it's more true to say Müller-Zürich had always retained a romantic tinge to his thematic material. The opening is a case in point, neo-baroque in its repeated ostinato-like Fs it suddenly dips decorously at the end of two bars and rises the same stairs. A cadenza follows as centre-piece and swiftly returns to the opening after some development. The second movement is based around a slowly winding three-note theme, with some wonderful playing off against the oboe. The third starts with a pre-echo of Walton's 'Death of Falstaff' from Henry V, and then proceeds on a set of passacaglia variations. The alla giga returns us to an exhortative homage to Hindemith, almost ... In fact it reminds one tangentially of Franz Reizenstein (1911-68), that pupil of both Hindemith and Vaughan Williams. And something oddly modal creeps into some of Müller-Zürich's work. There's something almost English about all this, which is merely to say that the different sensibilities of Swiss composers inhabit a world of reticence and melancholy not far removed from much British music. It's really memorable and shaped to the viola's inherent melancholy. Had Müller-Zürich heard Hindemith play the Walton? Either way, it heralds something of a discovery for viola players, should they get to hear of it. Only the BBC would have the courage to programme it, but as the single representative of Müller-Zürich's orchestral works on this disc it begs several questions. Guild could hardly afford to licence other orchestral recordings, and decide to follow this vintage performance with chamber music.

It's another Walton who enters the lists for Müller-Zürich: Chris Walton, the Schoeck scholar who pushed his composer to a BBC centenary and started the revivals. No doubt this accounts for his acuity in noting Schoeck's piano piece in the first of the Op. 10. He's given scant space to expound on his subject before the group of attractive Guild-gathered players are given their biography.

A Second String Quartet of 1961 had Müller-Zürich defending his by now old-fashioned stance against Darmstadt. He suggested that even traditional music set problems that each time had to be answered freshly. It begs questions, though. On this evidence, Müller-Zürich was a consummate master of large-scale forms in a romanticised neo-classicism, and recalling the finest of Hindemith's and Honegger's works in this medium. I'd suggest that the quartets might provide some of Müller-Zürich's finest discoveries.

Walton suggests that by the time of the Violin Sonata Op. 32, the war had charged his language with romanticism. Yes - Honegger's Violin Sonatas spring forward as the closest parallels, and this composer's influence has yet to be traced in Müller-Zürich's work. It's full-blooded in its rhetoric at times, yet elusive at the edges. The Sonata is a work to return to.

The delightful Trio for basset-horn, viola and cello of 1981 comes with the gooseberry flavours we expect in Hindemith, but with ripe fruit overtones and a light finish. Les Six and composers like Ibert and Auric are never too far away, hence the light ripe fruit.

This finally brings us to the Piano Quartet in c minor Op. 26. This is for violin, clarinet, cello and piano, written in 1937, but revised in 1971 to greater expressiveness. This is really a personally darker work, expressive and powerful. The clarinet lends a wayward Englishness but the whole composition unwinds in a far less neo-classic groundedness, or grindedness than in some other works. An empathic descending theme where piano and winds double each other, tread out with a kind of heavy delicacy the slightly sour baroque cut of the theme. It's as if French-Swiss influences like Honegger's have infused form as well as colour. The second movement scurries into more assertive neo-baroque, but again it's the French rather than Hindemithian cut that this falls prey to. Catchy dotted rhythms attempt to harry the finale which eddies with private ruminations. This fast movement contains some of the most memorable material since the opening of the Viola Concerto. Themes chase each other across the counterpoint with a melancholy zest.

A major discovery in Swiss music, Müller-Zürich might prove something more, a fourth master. A substantial minor one on this showing, but enduring. 

Simon Jenner

Paul Müller-Zürich was quite unknown to me until I heard this disc. He was born in Zurich and studied with Busoni pupil, Philipp Jarnach and with that denizen of the budget LP, conductor Volkmar Andreae. He moved to Paris for studies with Jean Batalla. From 1927 to 1968 he lectured at the Zurich Conservatoire dying in Luzern in 1993. I do not have any other information on him and would gladly have foregone Guild's paragraphs of artist information for a list of works and dates. However the key thing is the music.

The concerto is decidedly neo-baroque in style but with romantic tendencies. The Great Bach is never far from sight but then there are also several Beethovenian strokes. The work may well remind you of Hindemith's Schwanendreher Concerto. The 1965 mono ADD recording has its meed of hiss but nothing to detract unduly from a work well worth the occasional airing. The Duetto second movement is a gentle gem.

The remainder of the disc deploys vintage 2000 recordings of chamber works. Tolinsky steers us through the composer's move towards greater harmonic astringency and psychological complexity. Bach's presence is obscured only by some gentle Schoenbergian mists. These are tougher aggravating little sketches.

The Sonata is a work of wartime Europe. In it the composer runs on a neo-Baroque leash into frank romance. However he wanders not all that far from the patterned path of Baroque grandeur - indeed, as in the concerto, there is a colossal Handelian aspect to the invention. The themes are of generous amplitude across its fifteen minute (two movement) span.

While the Trio is full of activity and the artistry of the performers is never in doubt the work, which must be fun to play, does not register very deeply.

The two movement Piano Quartet received a make-over in 1971 though its 1937 vitality has not been drained. Overall it is the most memorable work here. Its almost Gallic melos cannot disguise homage to Bachian structures but does soften their inclination towards unrelenting mechanical action. The clarinet and cello lend a beguiling 'dressing' to this florid fantasia. It is in this work that Müller-Zürich liberates himself from the not always benign rule of Johan Sebastian and he does this in a way promised by the opening of the sonata but not fully delivered later. This work is tender - the most human of all the pieces to be heard here. It is closer to John Ireland, and late Fauré than to the Gothic megaliths of Bach and Handel.

Our reliable guide is Chris Walton, best known for his still largely unrecognised work for the music of Othmar Schoeck. Walton sketches in the key details but I would have liked more including a worklist.

Rob Barnett

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