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Walter BRICHT (1904–1970)
Orchestral Music - Volume 1
Symphonic Suite in A minor, Op. 25 (1931) [14:39]
Verwehte Blätter (Scattered Leaves), Op. 18b (1932) [11:26]
Symphony in A Minor, Op. 33 (1934) [31:51]
Fort Wayne Philharmonic/Andrew Constantine
rec. live, 18 March 2018, Rhinehart Music Center, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, USA

Walter Bricht, of Jewish ancestry, was born in Vienna. Both of his parents were musically informed and articulate. He attended for music tuition at the Vienna Academy for Music and graduated in 1928 in composition, conducting and piano. He was a student of Franz Schmidt (said to be Schmidt's favourite pupil) and Bricht's own music carries the impress of that composer's language. He was a teacher at the Vienna Volkskonservatorium from 1931 to 1938. One of his pupils was the conductor Kurt Herbert Adler (1905-1988) who later made a very successful career in the USA's great opera houses. The rise of the Nazis saw Bricht leaving to settle in the USA - at first in New York City, where he made a modest living. There were years on the staff at Mason College of Music in Charleston, in West Virginia, in New York again and in Washington DC. Then in 1963 he became professor at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington.

Toccata's excellent live recordings are of performances by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic (based near Bloomington) under the British conductor Andrew Constantine. They introduce listeners to three of Bricht's major orchestral works all of which date from before his enforced emigration across the Atlantic. Few works seem to date from the American years. There's a set of Variations in F major on an Old German Folksong (1940) for piano (left hand), flute and violin, a Piano Quintet in A minor (1952) and a song-cycle (1940). This is volume 1 so, knowing Toccata, we can rely on more to come.

First, we hear Bricht's otherwise unperformed Symphonic Suite. This was well thought of by Walter Damrosch but never found its way onto a concert programme. Its three movements are densely lush, warmly gaunt and weighty with musical substance. The music is limned in with pastel shades and charcoal greys. The central Sehr Langsam is lyrical and sultry with the occasional shiver adding some spice to the mix. This reminds me of the music for the marshes in Franz Waxman's Prince Valiant score. The last movement opens in unmistakably Schmidt style with a bubbling mellifluous quality that I last heard in Semyon Bychkov's Sony recording of the Schmidt Second Symphony.

The continuously played series of brief pieces that are the Eight Small Pieces comes next. These are an orchestration of a piano set. They are opulently magnificent: both affluent of substance and delicate of orchestration. Many fleetingly delightful moments seem to have been influenced by Korngold. They're all remarkable but the dandelion seeds and spindrift of the Rasch und leicht are worthy of special mention. However, if you are going to try one of them then the delectable Langsam, ausdrucksvoll with its lineage patently traced from Schmidt must be heard. The Eight Small Pieces were premiered in Vienna by a Bricht pupil, Kurt Pahlen conducting the Vienna Concert Orchestra in December 1933.

The Symphony is in four movements. The Mässig bewegt again has that "babbling brook" figuration to launch and sustain its forward progress. It is striking for its stern, steady, acerbic and, just occasionally, sweet demeanour. The music is in constant motion and suffers no becalmed doldrums. It keeps moving forward, sometimes with teeth gritted. The Langsam (II) is held in the sway of an Arcadian oboe melody heard near the beginning. Arcadian it may be but it finds itself chilled from time to time. The Intermezzo (III) turns phrases frequently towards sweetness of utterance. It finally adopts a dancing woodwind articulated Scherzando. This flickers out of life and into the apocalyptic start of the Finale. A surging forward and an upward impetus is in evidence. The movement proceeds at an evolutionary pace and ends in darkly tinged affirmation.

The Symphony was premiered on 20 June 1935 by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Anton Konrath. Sadly, later concerts evaporated as anti-Jewish sentiments and knowledge of Bricht's family connection became known. Bricht's Second Piano Concerto planned for premiere by Clemens Kraus suffered the same fate.

The sixteen-page booklet has a satisfyingly lengthy text by Michael Haas; much needed with a composer this obscure.

The recording is for the most part cool and clear. The woodwind is attentively communicated to the listener and this must surely be down to the engineers and the conductor, not to mention the orchestra.

These performances and recordings excavate tonal late-romantic music with the accent, lisp and slur of Franz Schmidt's orchestral work.

Rob Barnett



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