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Hermann SCHAFER (b.1927) Fruhe Kammermusik.
Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano (1958). Sonata for cello and piano (1951). Piano Trio (1946).
Annette Fehrmann (violin), Ingo Zander (cello), Oliver Triendl (piano)
No venue or recording dates given. DDD
ANTES EDITION BM CD 31.9182 [56.58]

Born in 1927 Schafer was just old enough during the Second World War to be conscripted into the German army and spend time as a prisoner of war. His formative years were in, if not a cultural vacuum, then a culture that the Nazis filtered ferociously. Anything ‘tainted’ by modernism was condemned as ‘Entartete Musik’ (degenerate music) and banned or placed in an exhibition designed to attract ridicule. So it’s no surprise to find Schafer’s idiom is strictly traditional and this is evident in the sonatas on this disc.

Unsurprisingly the weakest is the ’prentice piece of 1946, the Piano Trio. However, Schafer was undoubtedly of the 20th century and, as the notes suggest, he offered ‘old Romanticism draped in new dissonances’. This is particularly evident in the Cello Sonata; the most interesting piece here in its 1978 revision, where the first movement sounds a bit like Bartók. However, even here, the music doesn’t manage to maintain the momentum throughout despite the excellent opening Allegro appassionato. The Violin Sonata, like the Piano Trio, suffers from blandness, particularly in the outer movements, though the melancholy Andante offers a Vaughan Williams-like ‘soaring’ violin line that is extremely prepossessing.

The notes make interesting reading as they situate Schafer carefully in his social context. When an extreme ideology dominates a society it is easier to pick out how politics have influenced art. However, music can never be completely understood if divorced from the social context of the composer, the performers and the listeners. With fascism there was no middle ground, you were either for it or against it (those who didn’t oppose the Nazis, but were not party members, were giving support by default). Schafer felt himself a victim of the post-war musical orthodoxy and it was ironic that the Cello Sonata should be premiered at Kranichstein Palace, in Darmstadt, in 1952. A few years later Stockhausen, Boulez and others, were about to unleash onto the world, from Darmstadt, an uncompromising avant-garde music. Schafer, like many composers who looked to tradition in the post-War years, was ‘frozen out’ by the establishment.

Antes Edition are to be congratulated for releasing this disc of music by a little known, outside Germany at least, composer. The trio play very well and the recorded sound is clear. The music’s characteristic enough but ultimately sits in an anachronistic limbo.

Nick Lacey

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