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Wladimir VOGEL (1896 – 1984)
Vier Etüden für Orchester (1930/2)
Tripartita (1934)
Preludio – Interludio lirico – Postludio (1954)
Sinfonieorchester Basel/Israel Yinon
Recorded: Casino Basel Musiksaal, October 2001
REALSOUND RS 051-0037 [79:52]

Things (musical and other) are never what you think they are or might be. When I received this disc, I thought that someone had – at long last – decided to consider Vogel’s music worth recording. However, browsing through several websites, I realised that a number of his works are actually available on discs, although these may have passed unnoticed at the time of their release. I recently reviewed a new Guild release (GMCD 7250) including his Flute Concertino; but I was not aware of the existence of a recording of one of his early groundbreaking works (Wagadu’s Untergang durch die Eitelkeit, composed in 1930, available on MGB CD-6128, which I have not heard, or his Violin Concerto of 1940, available on MGB CD-6169, which I have also not heard) whereas several shorter works have also been recorded by DIVOX (though this one is presently out of print) and GALLO. Nevertheless, the present release featuring three large-scale, substantial orchestral works fills quite a gap in Vogel’s discography and provides for a most welcome re-assessment of his output.

Vogel was born in Moscow to a German father and a Russian mother. When he was 15, he met Skryabin who was to prove a lasting influence on his music. The outbreak of World War I put an end to his musical studies. His family was interned for being reichsdeutsch and was later exiled in a village near the Urals. He was nevertheless able to continue his studies. After the end of the war, Vogel and his family were allowed to emigrate to Berlin where he resumed his musical studies with Heinz Tiessen who was quite helpful in providing the budding composer with a thorough aesthetic background but who proved disappointing as far as composition was concerned. Vogel wanted to study either with Schönberg or with Busoni, and eventually studied with Busoni. Some early works, including a string quartet which was lost during World War II, attracted some attention; but it was Scherchen’s first performance of Zwei Etüden für Orchester that was decisive in putting Vogel’s name firmly on the musical map of his time. In 1933, however, he left Germany for France and Belgium before settling in Switzerland where he stayed for the rest of his life. He was given Swiss citizenship in 1954.

The Vier Etüden für Orchester is one of his first substantial orchestral works. The first two etudes Ritmica Funebre and Ritmica scherzosa, composed in 1930, were first performed by Scherchen and soon taken up by other conductors such as Stokowski and Ansermet. They drew much favourable critical appraisal, even from the terrible Swiss critic Aloys Mooser. They were recorded in the early 1930s but the Nazi authorities had these recordings destroyed. In 1932, he added two further etudes: Ostinato perpetuo and Ritmica ostinata. (Note the importance of the words Ritmico/ritmica and Ostinato/ostinata which clearly reflect some of Vogel’s formal preoccupations at that time.) Ritmica funebre is a powerfully impressive processional opening with heavy pounding drums, moving headlong with considerable energy, often bringing Honegger to mind. True to its title, Ritmica scherzosa is a nimble Scherzo of some orchestral virtuosity, in which Vogel uses the hocket technique exhilarating effect. Mirroring the first etude, ostinato perpetuo is another long slow movement of gripping power and intensity in which thematic material from the first etude is briefly restated, as in the magical coda. The final etude Ritmica ostinata caps the whole set with another quick, nervous movement of a somewhat lighter character ending with a march-like ostinato. This brings Shostakovich to mind, slowly tapping away before the final assertive chord. This is powerful, deeply serious stuff, displaying – among other things – a remarkable orchestral flair.

The Tripartita was completed in 1934 and first performed at the 1936 Venice Triennale. It marks a considerable advance on the earlier Etüden, both in formal thinking and orchestral mastery. As suggested by the title, the piece is in three panels of unequal length played without a break. A long central Adagio is framed by shorter, brilliant outer sections of some energy, sometimes verging on violence. The emotional weight of the piece rests in the powerfully expressive Adagio. This mighty work, too, drew favourable comment from Mooser who nevertheless wrote that "il ne faut chercher ni subtilité de la pensée, ni raffinement de la matière sonore, encore moins nuances du sentiment", which is – to say the least – somewhat exaggerated. You just have to listen to the beautiful central section which has some marvellous orchestral touches belying Mooser’s harsh words (I often wondered what it was like when he did not like a piece).

Some time later, in about 1937, Vogel turned to twelve-tone music without ever adhering to it unconditionally. His use of dodecaphony, informing much of his later music, was never dogmatic and quite comparable to Frank Martin’s own attitude towards the scheme, albeit with different results.

Preludio – Interludio lirico – Postludio was composed in 1954 on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Busoni’s death. In the Prelude, Vogel uses a seven-note theme from Busoni’s Toccata for piano. To this he adds five further notes, producing a basic twelve-tone row that he later uses with considerable freedom, i.e. from Schönberg’s point of view. The long Interlude also uses the twelve-tone row as a theme. The Prelude and Postlude are somewhat simpler in structures, the Postlude relying again on hocket. Preludio – Interludio lirico – Postludio is undoubtedly a major work from Vogel’s mature years. It displays to the full some remarkable though hard-won mastery and formal freedom.

I cannot but express the highest praise for this enterprising release which, I hope, will put Vogel’s highly personal music back into the catalogue. I look forward to having more of his orchestral music by the same forces as here. Their committed playing carries hard-to-resist conviction. Excellent recording and excellent insert notes. If a complete recording of Vogel’s opus magnum Thyl Claes, fils de Kolldraeger (which plays for nearly four hours) might still be a near-impossible task, a recording of the suites (there exist a suite drawn from the second part as well as three shorter orchestral suites made in 1958) might be a musically satisfying alternative.

Warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot


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