Paul MÜLLER-ZÜRICH (1898-1993)
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.