> Osterc Orchestral Music [GR]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Slavko OSTERC (1895-1941)
Orchestral Music

Classical Overture

Suite (1929)
Three Dances
Symphonic Movement
Four Symphonic Pieces

Slovenian Radio and TV SO/Samo Hubad
Rec 1990s, Slovenia, DDD
SAZAS DD 0259 [71.00]

The Slovenian Slavko Osterc (1895-1941), along with Marij Kogoj, is one of the two seminal figures in twentieth-century Slovenian music. He studied in Prague in the 1920s with Vitezslav Novák and Alois Habá amongst others and later taught at the Ljubljana Conservatory until the outbreak of the Second World War. His output features six operatic pieces (one of which is a mini-opera on the subject of Salome), five ballets, orchestral and vocal pieces. His instrumental and chamber output includes pieces for organ, a Saxophone Sonata, a Sonatina for two clarinets and a 1928 piece for string quartet called Silhouette, which has been recorded by the Tartini Quartet.

Five of Osterc’s orchestral works are presented here in recordings which appear, from the inadequate details accompanying the disc (given only in Slovene, not one of my languages), to date from between 1965 (the Suite) to 1978 (the Classical Overture). If so, they have transferred very well. The sound, albeit rather boxy in fuller textures, is very clear and not as studio-bound as on some recordings I have heard from more prestigious labels. The performances are, unsurprisingly, committed, indeed passionate: I cannot really imagine the composer’s cause being presented in a better light even if a more polished ensemble like the Concertgebouw were to champion them.

So what of the music itself? Osterc was a contemporary of Hindemith and a friend of Karl Amadeus Hartmann and there is something of both to be heard throughout this disc. Hindemith’s shadow is the longest, particularly in the 1929 Suite written as he finished his studies. The opening Tempo di marcia might well fool the innocent ear into thinking it a piece of echt-Hindemith, while the final polyphonic Presto sounds like an escapee from a lost Kammermusik. In between, though, come three movements where a little more of Osterc shines through, especially in the fourth movement, Religioso. The bright and breezy Classical Overture that opens the disc dates from 1932 and wears its Hindemith a little more lightly. It would make an excellent concert opener.

In the Three Dances of 1935, however, we can hear the composer moving into darker, more personal tonal landscapes. In this he sounds at times like his colleague Hartmann, but I think it a matter more of a common reaction to the events of the time rather than any formative influence. The solo trumpet of the first, Allegro moderato, and the saxophone solos in the central Valse, are particularly redolent of the Bavarian’s soundworld, but the main thrust of the dances themselves are not really Hartmannesque at all. Indeed, the concluding Vivo looks more to Bartók.

Just how different a composer Osterc was is shown by the complex Symphonic Movement, composed in 1936, despite—again—some similarities of instrumentation, though Osterc’s use of the orchestra is highly imaginative. It is a piece that looks forward more towards the type of works Hartmann would produce after the Second World War and makes all the more sad Osterc’s early death in Ljubljana, five weeks short of his forty-sixth birthday. A hint of what Osterc might have achieved later is also provided by the Four Symphonic Pieces completed in 1939. This is the most substantial work on the disc—a succession of March, Capriccio, Funeral Music and Toccata—and is indeed a suite and not a symphony (although the model is close to the Hindemithian model that would appear in post-war works such as the Sinfonia serena and Sinfonietta in E). Along with the Symphonic Movement (which at over twelve-and-a-half minutes is the longest single track), the Four Pieces strongly suggest what an Osterc symphony might have sounded like. The outer movements are bold and forceful, though also a reversion to a more Hindemithian mode, separated by the quixotic Capriccio and the deeply felt Funeral music. (Whose funeral is not made clear: 1930s Europe, perhaps?)

Slovenian Radio and TV have done us an excellent service in issuing these works on disc, and it is to be hoped that their series of music by Slovene composers will receive wider dissemination. Although a small country, overlooked (indeed historically overpowered from time to time) by Austria and Italy, Slovenia’s is a thriving musical culture, not at all inward-looking—they have already heard the Elgar-Payne Third Symphony, two years ago conducted by Gary Brain—and next year will host the World Music Days. I hope some Osterc works will be included. They certainly deserve to be.

Guy Rickards

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.