Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
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Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Concerto quasi una fantasia in B flat for violin and orchestra, Op. 21a (1911/12) [33’12];
Horn Concerto, Op. 55b (1951) [15’59]
aStefi Geyer (violin); Tonhalle Orchester Zürich/Volkmar Andreae;
bDennis Brain (horn); Collegium Musicum Zürich/Paul Sacher.
Rec. aFebruary 6th, 1947, blive, Zurich Tonhalle on May 4th, 1956. ADD

(re-released June 2004)

This is an important disc, marrying a first recording (the Violin Concerto) with a live performance by the greatest of all horn players, Dennis Brain. With a total playing time of only 50 minutes, the disc might, at first sight, be seen to deliver short shrift, but both pieces are works of some substance (best appreciated with a gap between listenings).

Schoeck was a pupil of Max Reger in Leipzig, and it is true that an element of seriousness has filtered through. But there are also moments of airy lightness that are pure delight.

The Horn Concerto is one of Schoeck’s more famous pieces. In the case of the present recording this is due in no small measure to the artistry of Dennis Brain. The robust opening introduces the soloist. One note and it could only be Brain – confidence personified, true tone and pitch, superb staccato (not over-tongued, just defined) and, most of all, infinitely sensitive. It is the hushed moments that linger in the memory.

The second movement (Grave, non troppo lento) is very lush, contrasting with the initial Allegretto. Brain’s liquid legato is a joy (and he is one of the few players who can be really expressive while hand-stopping – around 2’20). Dennis Brain was also famous for his sense of fun, and it is precisely that that comes across in the spirited (and very difficult!) finale. Sacher conducts with care and authority.

The Violin Concerto predates the Horn Concerto by forty years. Stefi Geyer (1888-1956, the soloist on this recording) was beloved by Schoeck, and something of this tender passion comes across in the music. Walter Legge produced this recording, and all things conspire to an intense experience, although the transfer sets things fairly back – more immediacy would be welcome. The music is here more obviously heart-on-sleeve than was the case in the Horn Concerto, a Romantic outpouring that suits Geyer’s lovely, sweet tone perfectly. Much of this movement is extremely restful, as is the hushed and delicate ‘Grave, non troppo lento’ (although there is animation around the 7’30 mark). The finale is open, free and as happy as Schoeck is liable to get.

Fascinating listening, then. Do give it a try, there is much to hold the attention here.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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