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|Hans KÖßLER (KOESSLER) (1853-1926)
String Quintet in D minor (1913) [28.55]
String Sextet in F minor (1902) [32.50]
(Charys Schuler Punto (violin); Aisling O’Dea (violin); Ingrid
Albert (viola); Kirstin Hullemann (viola); Maja Storck (cello);
Christiane Steppen (cello) (in sextet only))
rec. Sendesaal das Hessichen Rundfunks, September 2003; February
CPO 777269-2 [62.04]
I’m ashamed to say that until I set eyes on this
disc I had never heard of Hans Koessler - I will write his name
in this anglicised manner.
With so many composers one has not come across
before there is, after hearing their music often a sense of ‘Well
now I know why I’ve never heard of him/her’. With Koessler the
opposite remarks passed not only into my mind but into those
of friends on whom I experimented and asked them who the composer
might be. At first they said, what fine and attention-grabbing
music it is. Brahms’ name soon came up with some trepidation
and then Bruckner with even more. At the name of Koessler there
was considerable bewilderment. So we asked Google. There are,
it seems, two symphonies and over 130 works many of them vocal
- Koessler was a fine choral conductor. These are alluded to
in the booklet notes. Nothing of Koessler’s has been recorded
before as far as I am aware but the annotator expresses a wish
that one day there will be more – an aspiration I would thoroughly
Talking of the booklet notes they are by Eckhardt
van der Hoogen and are like no others that I had ever read before.
He makes the point that Koessler’s biography is almost entirely
uneventful. He was of that rather dull breed of teacher-administrator.
During a period in Budapest Kodaly and Bartók passed through
his hands. Earlier he had been a provincial organist with studies
at the Munich academy under Joseph Rheinberger. In 1877 he was
appointed director of the Dresden academy and later worked at
the Cologne Opera before Budapest claimed him for twenty years.
All very distinguished, of course.
You can imagine the sort of music that might come
out of this background: earnest, academic and conservative.
And yet the music takes one on a journey with passion and intensity.
It is deeply compelling and forces you to listen further. The
long movements never tire you and time passes quickly. In addition
there is also a somewhat surprising originality. In other words
the composer’s life story, as Hoogen is trying to say, does
not enhance and does not seem to have influenced what is essentially
pure music, despite its drama and a feeling that he is trying
to tell us something about the big things in life. Here is one
of several quotes from Hoogen who, after recounting the composer’s
life, ventures “All this is about as exciting to read as the
railway timetable of a rural terminus”.
I heard the pieces in the presented order which
is not the chronological one. I would advise that you do the
same as the Quintet which is a fine work in its own right does
in fact act as a preparation for the sextet.
The Quintet’s opening movement is in sonata-form
and lasts for over eight minutes. It has a strong (masculine)
first subject and a rather sentimental, therefore deeply contrasting
second subject. It is fascinating to see how Koessler wanders
around between these twin poles to develop his structure. The
ensuing adagio is beautifully constructed with a memorable opening
melody. A five minute scherzo and trio follows and then an amiable
but at times tough episode. The finale balances the work with
contrasting ideas vying for attention.
The Sextet which is also in four movements has
its scherzo third. It begins with an arresting unison idea and
again is followed by a gentler second subject. The argument
is symphonic in scope and moves around the keys with alacrity.
The booklet annotator has produced a usefully detailed analysis
of the movement. The second movement is a Dvořákian triple-time
Scherzo although, in truth a rather middle-aged one in this
performance. Anyway the annotator likes to think of it as Koessler
having eavesdropped “on a private meeting between Bruckner and
Brahms”. As he says this is not at all unlikely for “a teacher
The third movement is a dreamy and meditative
Adagio. Unusually I was left with the feeling that I did not
want the movement to end. Finally, as the booklet says, the
finale is the “true gem”. Apparently it has “the most detailed,
almost diacritical (sic) instructions”. Forgetting that, it
certainly suggests that Koessler was able to meet and trounce
the received wisdom that composers find finales difficult and
accordingly can run out of stream. Incidentally, if I may draw
your attention to another comic moment in the booklet, we are
informed that “Koessler was born between Bayreuth and Weichen … where
his fat cousin Max Reger was to grow up about 20 years later”!.
Surely he means his first cousin … doesn’t he?
No praise can be too great for The Frankfurt String
Sextet despite my comment earlier. They seem to be making a
habit of searching out Austro-German chamber music, especially
by unknown composers. They then have editions made, rehearse,
perform and quite often record this otherwise hidden music.
They play with such terrific commitment and understanding that
you would think that they have known this music all their young
lives. They are pictured within, as incidentally, is a pen and
ink drawing of a thoughtful Koessler.
The recording is vivid too although the only slight
criticism I have is that sometimes the inner parts, especially
in patches of especially vociferous counterpoint, are “too much
with us”. I would have liked a little more restraint from them
and a little more bass in the quintet.
This CD is worth getting for the booklet notes
alone, let alone the wonderful performances and some very fine
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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