Many years ago, perhaps
about 1980, the BBC used to allow
that wildly imaginative producer/composer
Robert Simpson an occasional programme
called 'The Innocent Ear'. Essentially
Mr Simpson would play radio tapes from
various sources without announcing who
wrote the piece. Listeners then had
no choice other than to leave their
luggage of prejudices and enthusiasms
behind. These two substantial works
by a 55 year old German composer might
well have caused a stir had they been
played in that series.
We are told that Schmidt-Kowalski's
music is well regarded in his region
in Germany and I am not surprised. These
two works are written in a style that
would have them fitting very congruously
into Sterling's German romantics series
alongside such 19th century luminaries
as Wetz, Draesecke and the rest.
First the Symphony
No. 3. This is music unlike the
lighter-weight Huber (in Sterling’s
‘Swiss Romantics’ series) yet without
the neurosis of Mahler. It conveys a
certain generosity of time and spirit.
In the first movement, a satisfying
Pfitzner-Bruckner-like adagio, memorable
moments include the background surge
of the horns. This is almost Tchaikovskian
(3.00). It marries well with the tender
‘tip and turn’ of the strings and the
very exposed trumpet solo at 5.43. The
movement ends on an imperiously defiant
high note for trumpet - most unusual.
The scherzo has the skip and dramatic
character of the scherzo of Dvořák
6. The finale is a peaceful and melodically
warm-rooted. It at first sings
in auburn tones but at 7.05 this gives
way to brazen tragic-heroism further
exalted by the blaze of the brass choir.
This tawny sound is typical of the brass
in the recent Barenboim-Staatskappelle
Schumann set (Warners).
The Cello Concerto
is a rounded blend of Schumann and
Saint-Saëns with a hint of Bruckner
along the way. The work yearns and sings
in full flow with the solo instrument
sincere, needy and suave. The movement's
ending strikes the only momentarily
false note sounding jocular and out
of place. The second movement, adagio
mosso, is sunnily soulful - somewhere
in the region between the Delius and
the Schumann concertos. The third has
an Elgarian cantilena - trudging
and businesslike. Majesty is not far
away and amongst the nice moments is
the transition from the declamatory
to the intimate as at 1.03 in the finale.
There is also a passage of sunlight-bathed
birdsong evocation which is strongly
memorable from 10.00 onwards.
My version was from
German Naxos and had notes only in German.
I wish Schmidt-Kowalski
well and would like to hear more of
his music. In the heterogeneous classical
music catalogue the world needs sincere
music like this. It speaks to us in
language that elides the 20th century's
novelties and keeps in touch with the
'centre' asserted by Schumann and Dvořák.
The ‘language’ consistent across both
works. Try these on your friends.