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Grete Von ZIERITZ (b. 1899)
Cassandra Calls (1985/86)
Concertino (1987) for Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and String Quintet
Gypsy Romance (1984) for solo violin

Mitglieder der Orchester-Akademie des Berliner Philharmonischen Orchesters
Philharmonisches Oktett Berlin
Marianne Boettcher (Violin)
ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 74321 65421 2 [AAD 57:06]
  £4.50 AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Born in Vienna but resident in Berlin for many years, the name of Grete von Zieritz is little known outside Germany, and perhaps, her native Austria. This disc has been released as a one hundredth birthday tribute to the composer although the actual recordings were all made in the mid-1980s around the time that the works were written. The brief introductory notes in the booklet point out that Zieritz taught for brief periods before becoming a composition pupil of Franz Schreker from 1926-1931. Subsequently she has devoted most of her time to composition.

Of the three works presented it is Cassandra Calls which is the most substantial, running to some forty minutes. The piece is best described as the composer's own "Pictures at an Exhibition". Indeed in her introduction to the work she makes open reference to Mussorgsky's masterpiece and cites four influences on her own work. The story of Cassandra, daughter of the Trojan King, as revived in the book Cassandra, by the German author, Christa Wolf, and a series of paintings by the Berlin based painter and graphic artist Christoph Niess which were directly inspired by the book. These factors are in turn related to the Chernobyl disaster, predictions of which, like Cassandra's prophesy of the downfall of her own city, went unheeded. Niess's images each depict Cassandra's face in various states of warning, fright and angst, the composer painting, quite literally, a musical portrait of each work of art. The first eight portraits feature solo instruments, each prefaced by a spoken introduction, (provided here by the composer), culminating in the final portrait for nonet. The introductions, which are of course spoken in German, are only around one to one and a half minutes long. However, for non-fluent German speakers such as myself, with no translation provided, I became increasingly frustrated (and bored) with flicking the remote to the next track. The music itself is freely chromatic, albeit with strong tonal undercurrents at times. There is little significant originality and playing that exhibits numerous rough edges does not help this live performance. However, the technically taxing opening violin portrait is impressive, as is the melancholic bass clarinet portrait that precedes the nonet at the end of the work. Once again, the playing is a little uneven in the nonet, and I found the closing, rather jolly major chord, disconcerting and rather bizarre given the nature of the score.

The Concertino of 1982 is of considerably more interest, possessing a gritty integrity, which reminded me a little of Elizabeth Maconchy. In five brief movements it begins with an Allegro risoluto con fuoco, the driving motor rhythms receiving committed treatment from the Philharmonisches Oktett Berlin. The more substantial Andante cantabile which follows displays well conceived material, leading into a playful Allegretto Scherzando which is separated from the bristling Presto furioso finale by a less interesting slow movement marked Arioso con dolore. The predominantly elegiac Gypsy Romance which concludes the disc, is the solo cadenza from Zieritz's Gypsy Concerto for violin, cymbal and orchestra. It receives a dedicated performance by Marianne Boettcher.

There is little to bring me back to this disc other than the short Concertino, which did raise my interest levels to a degree. The analogue recordings by SFB Radio Berlin lack balance at times and this, coupled with the mixed quality of performance, do not help the overall impression.

Christopher Thomas


Interview with composer (in German)

Profile in German

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