> Frank Martin - Der Cornet [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Der Cornet (1945)
d'après le poème de Rainer-Maria Rilke 'Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke'
Philippe Huttenlocher (bar)
Collegium Academicum Genève/Robert Dunand
rec 8 Oct 1984, live performance, Musée d'art et d'histoire de Genève, Radio Suisse-Romande II ADD
GALLO CD-725 [64.25]



It is completely characteristic of this composer that this symphonic song-cycle is unremittingly serious. That is perhaps no surprise since the inspiration explores the great themes in life, love and death. The work began life as a song-cycle but evolved into a series of twenty-three ‘scenes’ lasting over an hour. In these scenes the singer ‘plays’ various parts and also narrates - shifting perspective from scene to scene. One looks to Mahler (Das Lied von der Erde), Schoeck (Elegie) and Bantock (Sappho) for similarly grandiloquent designs.

Huttenlocher shows his mettle from the beginning. He is called on to start the work unaccompanied. His voice is steady as wrought iron - deep and Biblical (Old Testament of course). In fact he would make a great soloist in Belshazzar's Feast or in Schmidt's Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln. Although there is no choir the atmosphere is in common with much of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.

The baritone is required to carry the whole narrative as well as shifting perspective from narrator to character from section to section. Martin orchestration can emulate that of Edmund Rubbra. In this case the composer transcends this reputation. For example in Tag durch den tross and Der schrei he vividly conjures up a dissolute and murderous landscape. In the former the steely brilliance of the scoring suggests the composer had heard some Shostakovich. The last time I heard such a fine evocation of rapacious war was in the section of Milhaud's radio tableaux Christophe Colomb in which the One Hundred Years War is depicted.

The exhaustion and soul-tiredness of war even infects the Rast movement although it is defied in Das fest with the sort of halcyon intoxication that strides with bravado through Mahler's Das trunkene im frühling where the brimming cup jostles with a desperate walztraum. Desperation and doomed resignation round out the cycle as the Cornet of the title is slain by sabres in a ‘laughing fountain’ of blood.

This set is well documented with biographical profiles of the artists including the conductor Robert Dunand (1928-1991) who founded the Collegium Academicum. One criticism is that although a translation into French and English is provided with the sung German text, these translations are in separate sections of the booklet. The smarter layout would have been to present the translations side by side with the original. Frank Martin's own notes are reproduced with sections of a longer piece by Frank Meylan. The work is dedicated, as are so many works, to Paul Sacher.

This is a live performance betrayed by an isolated cough, a brass fluff in 0.14 of track 4 and some sincere applause from an audience that does not sound all that numerous.

Huttenlocher will be the envy of baritones the world over.

Rob Barnett

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