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Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Erwin und Elmire op. 25 - Gesänge zu dem Singspiel von Goethe (1916) [57:02]
Jeanette Fischer (sop) - Elmire, the daughter of Olympia; Mareike Schellenberger (mezzo) - Olympia, the mother of Elmire; Hans Christoph Begemann (bar) - Erwin, in love with Elmire; Tino Brütsch (ten) - Bernardo, elderly philosopher.
Zürcher Kammerorchester/Howard Griffiths
rec. 8-13 July 2002, Neumünsterkirche, Zürich. DDD
CPO 999 929-2 [57:02]

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The Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck was born on 1 September 1886 in Brunnen, Kanton Schwyz and died on 8 March 1957 in Zürich. Apart from his many songs there are eight operas of which this long-awaited example is the first. The Schoeck operas are: Erwin und Elmire (1916) Don Ranudo (1919), La Vénus d'Ille (1922), Penthesilea (1927), Vom Fischer und syner Fru (1930, Dresden), Massimilla Doni (1937), Das Schloss Dürande (1943) and Die Laune des Verliebten (1949, Leipzig). Four of these have been recorded in full. The 1919 and 1949 works await their recording premieres. Substantial extracts from Das Schloss Dürande have been issued by Jecklin from a 1940s German broadcast.

Schoeck was every inch the German late-romantic with Straussian inclinations. He had a luxuriantly stocked orchestral technique rooted in Schumann and Brahms and further back in Cosi fan tutte. The wartime Erwin und Elmire is intensely lyrical - sounding for much of the time more like an orchestral song-cycle than a stage work. The impression it at first creates is straight out of Strauss’s Four Last Songs (a work that in 1916 lay in the future) and even Elgar’s Sea Pictures. Things do however take on a more theatrical air in the second half. The Hin ist hin for Begemann’s Bernardo picks up on the bustle of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. The Ich muss duet between Elmire and Bernardo is very good - full of ardent life. From tr. 16 onwards we recognise a potency in the writing that is related to Schoeck’s own ‘high tide’ works including Massimila Doni (Koch 314 025 K3) and Venus. The trio of Erwin, Elmire and Bernardo is a celebration of vocally rapturous consonance. As with so much else in this little gem of an opera high spirits rule the day and the cast are its equal in elan and technique.

The plot involves the disdainful Elmire who has alienated her lover Erwin and who finds only depression in her separation from him. Bernardo tries to reconcile the lovers and overcome Elmire’s pride. His scheme involves Erwin disguising himself with a long beard and flowing robes. Elmire speaks to the disguised Erwin telling him of her loss and unhappiness. Eventually, at just the right moment, Erwin reveals his true identity. The couple are reunited in love and, together with Bernardo, now make for home to announce the good news to Olympia.

The disc is laid out ideally for pleasure and study with nineteen tracks. As is typical of CPO there are full and rather earnest notes as well as a libretto and parallel translation into English.

Roll on premiere recordings of Don Ranudo (orchestral extracts have been issued by CPO) and Die Laune des Verliebten. We certainly need a reissue of the old LP of Vom Fischer un syner Fru.

This is an early work steeped in Mozart, Schumann and some of it is atypical of Schoeck’s full maturity although the impressive orchestral Zwischenspiel gives some notice of what is to come. Interestingly Schoeck leans more towards Korngold than to the saturated expressionism of Weigl, Zemlinsky and Schrecker. Strangely the work becomes more characteristic as it rises to its climax.

Confident but stylistically uneven - there is much to enjoy here if you have a taste for high romantic stage music.

Rob Barnett

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