As a patron, the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher was Godfather
to much new music, including bona fide masterpieces such as Richard
Strauss’s Metamorphosen and Bartók’s Divertimento.
His wife’s fortune allowed him to indulge in cultural philanthropy (including
purchasing Stravinsky’s musical estate for a reputed $5m), and his talent
and supreme erudition saved him from becoming the playboy of western
This CD is a reconstruction of a concert given in January
1947 by Sacher to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Basler
Kammerorchester (not to be confused with the much newer Kammerorchester
Basel who play on this CD). Three new works were offered that day and
while none of the pieces are of the very first rank, they are all the
produce of master craftsmen.
Christopher Hogwood’s period instrument work in the
classical repertoire is characterful and exciting, so it is a slight
disappointment that the performances of these three neo-classical works,
whilst free of major deficiencies, are neither especially. Hogwood has
cultivated rather a thin sound in the Swiss orchestra, of which he is
principal conductor. Whether this is by technical limitation, or deference
to the style of orchestras of the day (vastly inferior to today, as
Honegger’s recordings testify) the music is ill-served. Intonation is
not always impeccable either.
Martinu’s Toccata e Due Canzoni is an infectious
work written whilst living in the USA. Those familiar with the Martinu
style will not be surprised here, as Martinu spins-out familiar material.
A sense of enjoyment is essential for this effervescent music, and Martinu-enthusiast
Hogwood draws this from his players, and Florian Hölscher gets
stuck in to the piano part with gusto.
As might be expected, the Stravinsky is the deepest
music on this disc. Compared to other neo-classical works such as Dumbarton
Oaks or Pulcinella this Concerto for strings is much
less often performed, which is no reflection on its quality. It is an
angular, almost balletic work, and the crisp playing captures its energy,
although some might prefer a greater sheen to the string sound at the
Arthur Honegger was one of Sacher’s favourite enthusiasms,
although it is hard not to believe that his faith in Honegger’s abilities
as a symphonist was misplaced. The fourth is a moderately diverting
piece that doesn’t live up to the composer's grandiloquent claims -
a slightly rambling affair to which the orchestra struggle to bring
any life. The prominent wind playing is without colour, although it
is hard to think what else could be brought to the banal lines of the
slow movement. A miss, unfortunately, but two out of three ain’t bad.
More interesting than impressive, this disc forms volume
1 of a series which may well offer more delight when it reaches the
finer works of the Sacher legacy. The accompanying documentation is
excellent, providing the original programme notes by Martinu and Honegger
(Stravinsky declined to write a note) and a full list of orchestra members.
Workmanlike performances of workmanlike pieces, worth
investigating for a buoyant performance of a delightful Martinu rarity.