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OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) - Complete String Quartets String Quartet Op 37 in C major (1923) String Quartet Op 23 in D major (1913) Movement for String Quartet (1908) Minguet Quartett MDG Scene MDG 603 0665-2 [59:35]



Schoeck was dubbed the ‘Swiss Schubert’ and hearing any of his works one can see why. Song and singable instrumental lines were central to his being.

The 1923 string quartet (No 2 in five movements!) stood in danger of seeming old-fashioned at that year’s Salzburg festival of the International Society of New Music. Perhaps it was by comparison with some of the music of that time. However the songful, yearning, romantic lines are presented in an involving and involved web of sound, dense with activity. Both in the rich interaction of the four instruments and in the tart, almost impressionist style of some of the melodies, Schoeck spoke out as a contemporary composer who could tap into high-romance (try 8:30 track 1). There are dance-like inspirations which momentarily suggest Viennese waltzes and simpler country dances amongst the general romantic melos. The ghost-like second movement has a typically long-limbed melody for the violin playing over an eerie scuttling accompaniment which moves increasingly into Elgar territory. This is not the first time I have heard this in Schoeck’s music. Did either composer hear the other’s music?. In any event the movement is not an Elgar clone. Schoeck’s writing is much more of this century than the British composer’s. The third pizzicato movement sounds like a very slightly sourer version of the Ravel quartet or the pizzicato movement from Tchaikovsky 4. It could just as easily serve as a gusty signature tune to some TV serial. Even when the other three members of the quartet are relaxing into another fine tune the second violin continues a mandolin pizzicato pulse which soon pulls the other instruments back to end the movement as it began. This is a tour-de-force. Why don’t more quartets take up this movement perhaps as an encore? The lento fourth movement is a piercingly high lament ending with utmost tenderness. The presto fifth, last and shortest movement is in constantly busy activity without resisting Schoeck’s magnetic attraction to melody.

The very brief (3:35) and isolated Movement for String Quartet is pleasant and has some signs of the mature voice of Schoeck. The 1913 string quartet still speaks of a confident innocence soon to be punctured by the Great War. This is in a conventional three movements. There are aspects of Mozart and Beethoven in this music overlaid with his usual reliable gift for distinctive melody. The first movement is rather long-winded though undeniably sweet. The middle movement is slightly bucolic in feel - Schoeck was brought up in the country. The final movement continues the lyrical strain suggesting the mature Schoeck in the lie of its melodies and their treatment. This is a good work but conventional and not the equal of the second quartet.

All thanks then to MDG for this fine disc played with style and secure confidence by the very young Minguett Quartet. I wonder whose idea it was to tackle the Schoeck works. Whatever the answer we can be glad that we have these fine performances to return to again and again. I know that these works have been played and broadcast (BBC 1986-7) by the Medici and Endellion Quartets but it is difficult to understand why they are not played more widely. When were these last performed in the USA?

Useful notes in English, French and German. A recommended disc certain to be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys Schoeck or those who appreciate the quartets of Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven or …. Zemlinsky. A late romantic par excellence Schoeck deserves to be more widely known and I urge you to get this release.


Rob Barnett

Reviewer Rob Barnett

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