These are world première recordings in Sterling's Romantic Swiss music
Hans Huber was amongst the leading musical personalities in the German-speaking
part of Switzerland in the years around the beginning of the 20th century.
He was born in 1852 in a small community in the north-west Swiss canton of
Solothurn. He studied under Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and subsequently taught
music in Alsace from where he made his first contacts with musical life in
Basel where he moved in 1877. In 1892 he achieved celebratory status with
his Festpielmusik zur Klein-Basler Gedenkfeier. He became diabetic
and died in 1921 during a stay at a spa in Locarno. He composed masses, choral
works, five operas, eight numbered symphonies, solo concertos for piano,
violin and cello plus a large amount of chamber music, numerous songs and
innumerable piano pieces.
Huber's 'Romantic' symphony is a vivid programmatic work comparable to Raff's
Symphony No.5 'Leonore'. Huber's work is based on a poem (reproduced in full
in the booklet) that celebrates a legend associated with the statue of St
Cecilia (the patron saint of music, of course) that stood in the chapel in
the town of Cmünd. The legend relates how a poor fiddler came in distress
to the chapel and played with such sad eloquence that it moved the saint
to pity so that her statue moved and gave the fiddler her golden slipper.
The fiddler rushed out to exchange the shoe for bread but when the shoe was
recognised, the fiddler was accused and tried as a thief and condemned to
death. On the way to the scaffold the fiddler pleaded to be taken back to
the chapel to pay his last respects to Saint Cecilia. With this wish granted,
the fiddler played once again before the statue of the saint and a second
miracle occurred when the statue gave the fiddler her other slipper. The
townsfolk were awestruck and released the fiddler who now became a hero.
At length he departed on his merry way but from henceforth the townsfolk
always respected and honoured visiting fiddlers.
Now Huber weaves his music around this legend and poem but he does not translate
the story literally but uses it in a stylised form. He imagines, for instance,
the fiddler's circumstances before he arrives in Cmünd. Huber is, of
course, provided with a golden opportunity to utilise a violinist as soloist
to personify the fiddler and the work proceeds very much in the spirit of
Berlioz's Harold in Italy. Huber is careful not to let the fiddler
become the star attraction - his part is well integrated into the orchestral
The first movement is in two parts. First there is a 6 minute Allegretto
tranquillo section also marked pastorale. This is a bit of a misnomer
because it isn't that tranquil - in fact one gets the impression that Huber
is in a hurry to start the narrative because it begins with march-like figures
as if he was walking purposely through the landscape, without enjoying it,
to carry out some purpose. A quirky trumpet fanfare introduces the fiddler
but the pace does not relax much and one imagines a sort of Korngold Sherwood
Forest backdrop where there is conflict and hidden danger. The second part
of this 21 minute movement is in the form of a theme and variations. This
gives Huber the chance to take his fiddler over broad plains, through woods
(complete with twittering birds etc), allows the fiddler to meet a jolly
band of soldiers and apparently makes fun of them (by the sound of this
interpretation) and to meet his 'beloved-to-be' to some florid, rather scented
romantic music (often impressionistic in style); although their amours are
interrupted by a violent storm. All the while, the fiddler (Hansheinz
Schneeberger) makes the most of all the expressive opportunities presented
by these scenarios.
The relatively shorter (8 minutes) second movement, one assumes, is the song(s)
that the fiddler plays in front of the statue of St Cecilia. The programme
sheet at the première gave the title 'The fiddler's songs: Love and
Sorrow for this movement. The third movement (16 minutes) is spectacular
and the influence of Richard Strauss (particularly Till Eulenspiegel) is
apparent. It commences as a march to the scaffold. The music suggests outraged
Civic pride and the protestations of a perhaps not so innocent fiddler, then
there is a quieter section as he persuades his captors to allow him to pay
his last respects in the chapel. There follows a magnificent climax, with
full organ, celebrating all the pomp of the Church as the second miracle
occurs. The work ends quietly as the fiddler goes on his way.
This is a most interesting and engaging work which deserves to be better
known. It receives a full-blooded and spontaneous performance form soloist
The other work in the programme is enchanting. Huber's 'Summer Nights' Serenade
is pleasant, relaxing, undemanding music. The first movement is rather
classical/early Romantic in style. Mendelssohn comes to mind more than once.
There is a rustic quality but also a feeling of national pride which is also
evident in the finale. The scherzo second movement is fast very bright and
untroubled; I had the mental picture of a romantic carriage and horse ride.
I carried this imagery over into the Adagio third movement that is also marked
Nocturne. Here I imagined the carriage stopping at some lovely vantage point
as the lovers caressed under the moon and stars. This movement is dreamily
romantic with some fine writing for horns and strings. The finale is a joyous
celebration with dancing that reminds one of Liszt and Brahms in Hungarian
A recording to discover and savour.