OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Cello Concerto Op 61 (1947) Sommernacht Op 58 (1945) Johnannes Goritzki (cello and conductor) Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss Claves Digital CD 50-8502 recorded 1985 [55'42"]



The Cello Concerto is a late work dedicated to Pierre Fournier who premiered it on 10 February 1948 at the Zurich Tonhalle with Volkmar Andreae conducting. It is unusual in that the orchestra is for strings alone. In the violin concerto of more than 30 years previously he used a full orchestra. The cello was important to Schoeck. Some months before his death he heard a performance of the concerto and this inspired him to begin work on a cello sonata which lay incomplete when he died.

Rather as in the violin concerto the cello is in almost constant song. The musical ideas have a much sharper etched character than the earlier work. Schoeck’s string writing is very much his own style though, through the half-lights, you sometime catch a hint of Elgar as in the last movement of the 1945 suite for strings. The work would perhaps have benefited from the variety which comes from a full orchestra - after all a string instrument playing against the background of strings would be a challenge for most composers. For the most part Schoeck meets that challenge in this 4-movement work. The 17 minute first movement is overlong but not by a large margin. It ends with a satisfying crunch. The second movement Andante tranquillo is not far removed from the midsummer night’s idyll of Sommernacht. The third movement is a brief Bach-like presto. The last movement Lento uses a gently rocking and cradling theme before the intense though quiet string writing again leads us back towards summer nights. In fact this atmosphere reminds me a little of the Scandinavian romantics attraction to the midnight sun. This predominantly elegiac nostalgic work runs to 40 concentrated minutes. The violin concerto is about 6 minutes shorter.

I have a great affection for the other work on this disc. Sommernacht is for strings alone. Summer Night was inspired by a poem of the same name by Gottfried Keller. All four stanzas of the poem are printed in the CD leaflet. The music does not attempt to follow the plot of the poem but to evoke its mood and atmosphere. The mood is warm, carefree, nocturnal and joyous. The young men of the village work through the night in addition to their other harvest duties to harvest the corn of a widow who has no menfolk to bring in the crop. The work is done in secret. The sickles swish, the harvesters speak in whispers, a gentle breeze cools the men, the sheaves are bundled and stacked and as dawn arrives the men leave for their ordinary day’s work. The scene is moonlit, silvery and the warmth of the previous day can still be felt. It is a magical piece which I first encountered on a Genesis LP (GS1010) on which the principal work was the Raff Piano Concerto. That fine performance, which introduced me to Schoeck, was conducted by Paul Kletzki with a Geneva studio orchestra. The present performance, pressing ahead marginally more than the Kletzki, is excellent with the music floating and drifting in a relaxed, dream-like enchantment. If you enjoy the Tippett Concerto for Double String orchestra, the Elgar Serenade and the Introduction and Allegro you will like this piece. In fact, keen Elgarians will probably find themselves very sympathetic to the cello concerto as well. Try the wonderful dream dance between orchestra and solo violin at 7:30. If you do not like this you are unlikely to warm to the instrumental Schoeck. For me Sommernacht is one of the treasures of the string repertoire.

This is short playing time but the recordings are of good sound quality though dating back to 1985 in the case of the concerto. Recommendable and recommended for the adventurous listener and also for the repertoire hunter looking for enterprising and rewarding ideas for programming string orchestra concerts.


Rob Barnett

Reviewer Rob Barnett

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