Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Violin Concerto in B flat major - Quasi Una Fantasia Op 21 (1912) Suite from the opera Penthesilea Op. 39 (1925) (arr Andreas Delfs) Bettina Boller (violin) Swiss Youth SO/Andreas Delfs Claves Digital CD 50-9201 recorded 1991 [60'33"]



Schoeck’s trio of concertos stand aside from the Swiss composer’s devotion to the voice. On the other hand his concertos have strong vocal qualities. They are melodious works written in an enjoyable late-romantic though not overblown style.

The Violin Concerto has been recorded several times. Stefi Geyer’s 1940s 78s are now on a Jecklin CD, Ulrich Lehman’s intense performance was available on a Mace LP (1970s), Emmy Verhey’s MGB account has been around since 1991 and Ulf Hoelscher recorded it for Novalis. I have heard the Lehman, Verhey and now the Boller. However good the Geyer, performed at the end of her career, it is a special case in historic mono sound.

It is dedicated to the violinist Stefi Geyer with whom Schoeck fell in obsessive love although it seems that his love for her was never reciprocated. Before she met Schoeck she had also been the dedicatee of Bartók’s first violin concerto. The concerto is songful and occasionally Brahmsian. It receives an ardently committed performance from Bettina Boller who seemingly cherishes the concerto’s long undulating lines. The work has a few fireworks but it is predominantly a lyrical piece as might well have been expected from a composer who devoted his musical life to the human voice. The violin is in almost constant activity throughout the concerto.

Anyone who enjoys the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, the Brahms or the Bruch is likely to enjoy this concerto and find themselves whistling its themes. If you have already discovered even rarer though very rewarding concertos by de Boeck, Karlowicz, Ivanovs, Miaskovsky, Glazunov, Leroy Robertson, Borresen or Siegfried Wagner you are likely to enjoy this fine concerto. Who knows - one day Hyperion may think it worthwhile to launch a romantic violin concerto series as they have for the romantic piano concerto. If so the Schoeck will certainly deserve a place in the lists.

Penthesilea (to words by Heinrich von Kleist) was written in 1924/5 between two of his most famous song cycles: Elegie and Lebendig Begraben. It is the fifth of his eight operas and was premiered in Dresden in 1927. It was revived in full in Luzern in 1973 conducted by Zdenek Macal and recorded on LP in 1975 Harmonia Mundi/BASF 49 22485-6. I believe that this may have been reissued on CD. In addition there is a performance with the Austrian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra / Gerd Albrecht on Orfeo C364941B from 1982. I have not heard the Orfeo but it is reportedly a superior performance to the old Harmonia Mundi.

The opera is about 80 minutes duration. It is written in a very different, more jagged language than the violin concerto of only 10 years earlier. The two leading characters are set for the darker voices of mezzo and baritone. The orchestra leans on dark colours also: ten clarinets, two pianos, brass and percussion are prominent lightened by parts for four solo violins. The critic Hans Corrodi commented on its ‘bronze sound’. Schoeck did not make a suite and Andreas Delfs has stepped in to create one adapting Schoeck’s auburn and peppery orchestration to match the practicalities of a more conventionally outfitted orchestra. The suite apparently preserves the plot-line of the opera. Although it falls naturally into a series of sections these are played without break. The work opens in screaming impressive conflict - a mood to which it returns often. Bartók and Richard Strauss seem to have been influences on the Schoeck of Penthesilea. There are many pools of tranquillity (try 9:25) in this music when the romantic Schoeck is in his element. Sometimes a Mahlerian sunrise is evoked as in 12:00. Much of this music is sumptuous and whets the appetite to hear the whole opera. Warlike figures, conflict and aggression appear and reappear evoked by percussion, high shrieking woodwind and clamorous brass. Some of this takes us into Heldenleben territory. Ultimately the suite seems rather fragmentary but many of those fragments agreeably tickle and stimulate the ear.

Let fears be stilled so far as the youth orchestra is concerned. They give performances of secure intonation and utmost confidence. The sound gives the impression of a large concert hall without being too cavernous. The performance of the concerto is certainly the preferred one so far as I am concerned although I have not yet heard the Novalis or the Jecklin. It will not surprise me if the Schoeck concerto appears on Chandos before too long. After all Claves, MGB and Novalis discs are not exactly common fare. Notes: fine. Total play duration mildly disappointing. It would have been good if another work could have been accommodated.

Repertoire attractive and excellent performances. A highly recommended disc.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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