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Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Cello Concerto Op.61 (1947) [33.29]
Suite in A flat major Op.59 (1945) [27.20]
Julius Berger (cello)
South West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim/Vladislav Czarnecki
Recorded Johanneshaus Niefern-Öschelbronn, Festaal, June 2001 (Suite) and February 2002 (Cello Concerto)
EBS 6145 [61.50]



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Both these works followed hard on the heels of the ending of the Second World War. The Cello Concerto was begun at the start of 1947 and finished quickly; there had been a run-through of the first two completed movements with the distinguished Paul Grümmer - Schoeck himself at the piano - but the premiere was given by Pierre Fournier in 1948 in Zurich. Those who know and admire the somewhat earlier Violin Concerto, written for Stefi Geyer and whose premiere recording is available on Jecklin (though a better transfer was on Lys) will perhaps find the Cello Concerto less immediately impressive. The earlier string concerto contains themes of palpable warmth and great lyrical beauty. But the charm of the Cello Concerto increases with each hearing and there are things in it of real significance.

Opening lyrically there’s also a stalking rhythmic impulse that recurs throughout the long-ish quarter of an hour Allegro moderato. There may be hints of an Elgarian kind of syntax but it’s the shared chamber intimacies that most reveal themselves – of texture and of mood, of refinement but also of a quiet melancholy. The double stops for the soloist that start the slow movement soon give way to a rich cantilena, rather beautiful, moving, compact and powerfully argued. The multi-faceted nature of the concerto is further cemented by a deliberately quasi-archaic Gigue of a scherzo. To an ostinato orchestral accompaniment the music lightens and cleanses in this brisk immersion into this not-quite foray into neo-classicism. Adopting the four-movement concerto model the finale opens with a lento section that gradually screws itself up and drives forward. In terms of tempo and dynamics things grow in size and the lyrical uplift is really unmistakeable with the soloist acrobatically giving vent to now-secure confidence.  The performances are convincing; the strings of South West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim can be rather thin and lack weight and Berger has rather a nasal tone but otherwise there’s no undue lingering and perception is strong, not least in the lyrical heart of this more than attractive work – one well worth taking the trouble to get to know. Once known, never forgotten.

Coupled with it is the Suite in A flat major, written a couple of years earlier. Here we really do get Schoeck’s own brand of frank neo-classicism. Rich, melodic but once more tinged with melancholia this is a short five movement work. The polyphony can sometimes be quite dense but highpoints are the slow Pastorale, with its reflective choirs and its trace elements of the Tallis Fantasia, and the whiff of Prokofiev that animates the March third movement (actually more than a whiff) – though note the delightful counterpoint for second violins. The slow movement is wistfully grave but not too much so and the Presto finale encloses a fine fugato section – lively, bright and just right to end this undemanding but well-constructed piece. 

Sound quality is good if not spectacular and the notes cover the main compositional areas with precision. Of the two it’s the Cello Concerto that’s the more compelling – it has something about it that just won’t let go.

Jonathan Woolf




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