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Kurt SCHWERTSIK (b.1935)
Irdische Klänge (Earthly Sounds) - Symphony in Two Movements Op. 37 (1980) [17.38]
Irdischen Klänge 2 Teil (Earthly Sounds - Part 2) - Five Nature Pieces Op. 45 (1984) [15.22]
Das ende der Irdischen Klänge (The End of Earthly Sounds) - with heavy tread Op. 60 (1991) [5.36]
Inmitten der Irdischen Klänge (In the midst of Earthly Sounds) - Uluru Op. 64 (1992) [17.55]
Baumgesänge (Tree Songs) Op. 65 (1992) [21.07]
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. 28-31 March, 27-28 July 1995, Adelaide Town Hall, South Australia. DDD
ABC CLASSICS 476 227-3 [79.28]


Schwertsik's music is eclectic, stylistically gregarious and accommodating. Its accent is on tonality despite his 1950s studies with Stockhausen and Kagel. Before appointment as professor of composition in Vienna University he had been second horn in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra so he knows the orchestra. He lives in Vienna with his wife Christa, a soprano with whom he gives song recitals. His German father was killed on the Eastern Front during the second world war. His influences, on the evidence of the music to be heard here, include Bernard Herrmann (he is a science fiction buff), Sibelius, Nyman, Stravinsky (overwhelmed by hearing Le Sacre as a teenager he there and then determined to become a composer) and Panufnik.

Irdische Klänge is said to owe its existence to Stockhausen's Trans (1971). Perhaps this voice can be heard in the first of the two episodes but a proto-Sibelian minimalism trudges and patters through the fascinatingly emphatic second section and reappears in the second of the Op. 45 pieces.

The Op. 45 work is in five sections and was written to complement Op. 37. It is more tonal and even emotionally filmic with breathy bottle noises and even Arnoldian whoops enriching the fabric. Wind and thunder machines provide delicate touches to the colour-world of the piece and there are yet more Sibelian woodwind interjections - deliciously cheeky and propulsive. Elysian running water noises cool the fourth episode while the final picture rasps with rambunctious Stravinskianisms and the sort of Ligeti sounds you get in the nightmare sections of Le Grand Macabre.

Op. 60 is full of brassily energetic confidence with military whoops and a destructive sneer suggestive of the tragedy and disillusion of 1930s Berlin. The timpani and side-drum assault of the last few minutes is unyielding and heartless.

The single movement Uluru (Ayers Rock) has the listener in a dream-world which occasionally coasts close to film music. Schwertsik had visited the famous rock. This piece has an inwardness not always found in the other pieces. The song of the butcher bird weaves in and out. This is a major piece of lyrical writing at times indebted to Mahler's famous adagietto (the Adelaide violins do sing out their hearts), to Sibelius's Tapiola and to Rubbra - if this is not too rudely miscellaneous a juxtaposition. It is an extremely impressive piece with a sure symphonic stride.

Tree Songs is in six movements. They lack the cohesive charge of Uluru but have a varied American accent - rather like the stark aspects of the writing of Carl Ruggles and William Schuman. The sehr gedehnt movement has a small town smile to it and a light dancing step. This makes for a contrast with the predominance of harshly sphinx-like Stravinskian stamping gutturals.

A sprinkling from the cruet of 'modernism' across a palette that takes in Stravinsky, Sibelius, Schuman, Mahler, Ruggles, Copland, Arnold and Herrmann (surely North by North-West must have been in Schwertsik's mind when he wrote the final panel of Tree Songs).

Rob Barnett

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