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Martin SCHERBER (1907-1974)
First Symphony in D Minor [28:02]
Sieben Goethelieder [12:26]
So schön war jene Stunde [0:56]
Zwei Lieder [5:34]
Großer Kinderliederzyklus [10:48]
Kleiner Kinderliederzyklus [7:01]
Drei Lieder [5:32]
Thomas Heyner (tenor)
Lars Jönsson, Hedayet Djeddikar (piano)
Laura Cromm (violin)
Bratislava Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
rec. 2014, Slovak Radio Studio 1, Bratislava (Symphony), 2009/16, Great Hall of the Highschool for Music and the Performing Arts, Frankfurt (songs)
STERLING CDS1113-2 [71:05]

Martin Scherber is a rather marginal figure in the history of German music, but one not without interest. Little of his output has been recorded, so Sterling have provided a valuable service with this issue.

Part of the reason for his obscurity is his own way of life. He was born in Nuremberg and spent most of his life there. Accounts of his personality and life suggest a rather dreamy and withdrawn nature, and his output was small. In his younger days he worked as répétiteur at Aussig, and also conducted a little. From 1922 he also worked as a pianist, but he withdrew wholly from public life in 1933. Thereafter, he worked as composer and music teacher in Nuremberg until he was run over by a drunk driver in 1970, leaving him with catastrophic injuries. He refused to publish his symphonies, but was persuaded to allow facsimiles of the scores of the First and Third to be issued for the Albrecht Dürer celebrations in 1971. The second and third symphonies were later recorded. I have listened to the Third, but the lengthy Second has proved elusive – it is no longer available.

Scherber was fascinated by and studied Philosophy, and his writings tend to be rather mystical in expression. He is quoted as saying of his Second Symphony: " … this 2nd symphony is not a composition but a Mysterium - also for me! ... Like a prospective mother I experienced the process of bringing it forth, only not so unconsciously; experienced how those world powers which create mankind wanted to reveal themselves in an audible way." He described his symphonies as ‘Metamorphosis-Symphonies’, suggesting an organic development.

If we cut through the mystical language and listen, what we hear is a musical language indebted to Bruckner with occasional touches of the Mahler of the first Four Symphonies. One finds nothing of the Twentieth Century here. The First Symphony begins with a Brucknerian tremolo; the pulse, too, is very Brucknerian in tread and colouring throughout (and this music treads rather than rushes ahead). In some ways, this is best characterised as Bruckner in lesser hands – but worth hearing for all that. However, at around 28 minutes, the symphony lacks both Bruckner’s heavenly lengths and unexpected yet logical developments, as well as much of the spiritual depth. The performance by Adriano brings out both the value but also the unoriginality of the music.

The songs are similarly undatable in character, but charming. None is very long. The Goethe settings are subtle and alert to the sense of the words. Best of all are the two cycles of songs for children. The larger cycle, from 1930, dispatches 18 songs in under eleven minutes. The craftsmanship is exquisite. It suggests that Scherber misunderstood his own gifts. Imitative as a symphonist, he was clearly an exquisite miniaturist, and these songs are a gift to the recitalist. Absolutely lovely is the second of the two Two Lieder, the anonymous Frühauch (Early Morning’s Air), with accompaniment for violin and piano. Thomas Heyer is a fine lyric tenor, sensitive in expression and interpretation, ideal for this repertoire. Praise is due also to his two accompanists – the poetry is there throughout.

Overall, then, this is an interesting release – and rather more than that for such lovely but unknown songs.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Jim Westhead



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