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Gerard SCHURMANN (b.1924)
Chamber Music Volume 3
Piano Quartet No. 1 (1986) [21.04]
Serenade for Solo Violin (1969) [17.19]
Piano Quartet No. 2 (1997-8) [20.50]
Two Violins (2015) [13.47]
Lyris Quartet
Martin Beaver (violin)
Mikhail Korzhev (piano)
rec. 2015-17, Meng Concert Hall of Music, California State University, Fullerton; Allegro Recordings, Burbank, California.

It would be fair to say that Gerard Schurmann has always been a bit of an outsider in British music, largely because of the fact that he was born in Java which was then part of the Dutch East Indies, secondly because he ‘cut his teeth’ as a film composer including Hammer horrors like The Lost Continent (1968) and also because he has for some years been living in Los Angeles. The consequence has been that chances to hear his music have been few. I can recall, though, a wonderful impression made on me at a performance c.1980 at the Three Choirs Festival of his Vision of Piers Ploughman for chorus and orchestra. Soon after that I snapped up a recording of his powerful Six Studies of Francis Bacon recorded by Chandos (CHAN9167)

Sadly, I missed the two previous volumes in this series but am happy to be studying these works and getting to know his music again.

The earliest work on this CD dates from 1969 and is one the composer’s first recognised compositions. As Paul Conway observes the Serenade for Solo Violin is, in effect, a set of nine studies, which utilize various string techniques and effects whilst making a cohesive work overall. So, for example, the third piece ‘Con stancio’ displays a fascinating use of harmonics. Later the ‘Presto’ movement is muted throughout, the gentle ‘Tranquillo’ includes ‘flautando’ passages, trills and icy tremelandos. You get the idea.

It was composed originally for Schurmann’s first wife Vivien Hind, who was at the time leader of the BBC Concert Orchestra. It would be great to hear her interpretation but Martin Beaver is superb and, it seems to me, never puts a foot wrong with his gracious but also authoritative playing. Alan Rawsthorne, Schurmann’s teacher and friend is perhaps a strong influence behind this work.

I found the 1st Piano Quartet to be an immensely fine and an utterly admirable creation. It’s sometimes difficult to quantify these things but it is, of course, something to do with the nature of the material. Here in movement one – entitled ‘Ricercare’, it is sinewy and searching, the second movement is a lengthy ‘Capriccio’. This is fast music over an extended period and any composer knows what a challenge properly quick music is, especially at over seven minutes duration, the longest of the three movements. A memorable melody emerges regularly across the texture which Paul Conway, in the usual extended and really useful booklet essay which Toccata proudly provides, says is “a folk-like theme”, but which I heard as a fragment of plainchant. The finale, Corale, is a slow movement of equal length which ends the work “in a mood of calm acquiescence” after the relentless “energy of the angry ‘Dies Irae’ of the ‘Capriccio’”, anger expressed at the decease of two close friends of Schurmann’s, one being Hans Keller.

The Piano Quartet No 2 is a much sunnier work. It too is in three movements with the longest again, the middle one, which is marked ‘Scorrevole’, which here may well mean sliding and/or flowing. Cleverly this is also a slow movement – adagio cantabile – but with scherzo elements mixed in. On either side is first a lyrical allegro moderato and at the close a fugue, marked allegro molto, with a most memorable and wonderfully treated subject so full of vigour. Without demeaning the piece in any way I would say that this is the friendly and approachable face of twentieth century music but also that Schurmann has his own voice that draws you in and also makes you think.

I would imagine that the composer must have been delighted with the final cut of these performances. There is some very fine playing here and the energy and vitality of the music is captured to its full where necessary but when needed the reflective nature of the music is thoughtfully conveyed.

The disc ends with two members of the Lyris Quartet playing a work written especially for them, a set of six miniatures making up Two Violins. This is cleverly constructed where material in one movement informs and is reflected in another. The opening ‘Parade’ is described as a vignette in which the ideas are passed between the two players in the form of a conversation. And this dialogue creates further moods via ‘Dreaming’, then ‘Playing’. There is also ‘Teasing’ which uses differing tempi, ‘Roaming’ as the ideas meander into each other and finally the fun of ‘Chasing’. All very clever and also challenging for the two superb performers.

Gary Higginson


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