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Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Concerto quasi una fantasia for violin and orchestra in B flat major Op.21 (1911/12) *
Concerto for horn and orchestra Op.65 (1951)
Stefi Geyer (violin)
Tonhalle Orchester/Volkmar Andreae, recorded February 1947 *
Dennis Brain (horn)
Collegium Musicum Zürich/Paul Sacher, live recording 4 May 1956
JECKLIN EDITION JD 715-2 [49.29]

(re-released June 2004)

These two historic performances make most natural disc-mates. The Violin Concerto is the first recording whilst the Horn Concerto derives from a live concert performance given by the visiting Dennis Brain in 1956, the year before his tragic death. Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer (1888-1956) shared with her compatriot Jelly d’Aranyi an almost magnetic allure for composers – in the case of the former Bartók and Schoeck, both of whom wrote concertos for her (d’Aranyi stirred variously admiration and something more from amongst others Ravel, Elgar and Bartók).

This is germane to the Violin Concerto because Schoeck fell in love with Geyer and wrote the work – and smaller violin and piano pieces – for her, though in the end she didn’t give the première performance. The fantasia element is strong throughout the three-movement work, which takes as its compositional axis a confluence of Dvořák and Brahms. There’s a great deal of highly persuasive lyricism, and a sensitive cantilena – Schoeck ending the first movement with a genuinely effective reserve. The Grave second movement achieves real poignancy and the finale opens the windows with fresh air swirl and a dancing evocative release. It’s an unusually wistful work and has, thankfully, received modern recordings. Jecklin sound to have utilised commercial 78 copies (one can faintly sense the side joins at 4.10 and 8.25 in the first movement for instance) but it’s very, very dimly and backwardly transferred. Comparison with the LYS CD transfer of a few years back shows that whilst theirs was rather blatant and unsubtle, there was also far more detail, immediacy and life. One can clearly hear with LYS Geyer’s almost cellistic lower strings in the second movement and the pellucid, though not very distinctive, upper ones as well.

The sonics for the live Horn Concerto are pretty good. Written in 1951 it reflects the increasing transparency of scoring that Schoeck adopted though there was no diminishment in his lyricism and sense of fun. The model is broadly Straussian, virtuosic and challenging, but lyrical. Brain proves himself secure in even the highest positions and responds with élan to the work’s many opportunities for lyricism and display. The second movement in particularly effective - colour and vibrancy to the fore and a real romanticism as well, topped by a lighthearted hunting Rondo finale.

The fine notes are by Schoeck expert Chris Walton. Jecklin are doing good things for Schoeck and that’s very welcome. I can’t in all honesty recommend their transfer of the Violin Concerto but the rarity value of Dennis Brain in the Horn Concerto can’t be over-estimated.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

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