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Johann Carl ESCHMANN (1826-1882)
Lieder: Zwei Gedichte von Pauline E, op. 2; Fünf Lieder von J von Eichendorff, op. 7; Zwei Heimgekehehrte op. 10; Zweigesang, op. 11; An Louise von C. op. 32; Aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers op. 34; Aus glücklichen Tagen, op. 48; In stiller Nacht, op. 49
Yvonne Howard (mezzo); Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor); Kathron Sturrock (piano); Andrew Fuller (cello); Nicholas Korth (horn)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 20-25 November 2004. DDD
GUILD GMCD 7295 [78:29]

Guild Recordings is a good source for obscure composers overlooked by major recording companies. Their series on Rebecca Clarke was an eye-opener, sparking a revival of the British composerís much underrated music. Here they return to another speciality, Swiss music.

Johann Carl Eschmann was born in Winterthur. He studied music in Leipzig, for a short time getting lessons from Mendelssohn himself. He spent the rest of his life teaching and playing music in the Zürich area. While playing for the Allgemeinen Musik-Gesellschaft Zürich, he came into contact with no less than Richard Wagner, who conducted the ensemble. Wagnerís arrangement for the fifth of his Wesendonck songs for solo violin and orchestra was inscribed in Eschmannís honour.

Let us not think though, that the association with Wagner led to any great music on Eschmannís part. These songs are a vignette into what was heard in cultivated music circles of the time. Eschmann has a gift for a lyrical melodic line, underpinned by a strong piano part. They must be a pleasure to perform, for they are unfussy, yet harmonious, and need no special virtuoso skills.

The first two songs, to poems by "Pauline E", possibly a relative of the composer, have a certain honest, homely charm. When Eschmann sets a major poet like Eichendorff, he tends to follow the line of text with minimal accompaniment. These poems are Eichendorff at his more pietist, safe homilies about God and virtue. Eschmann has the sense not to overpower them with fancy effects. They come across as very minor Schumann, or Mendelssohn: nothing to frighten the horses, but enough to enjoy in the confines of a middle class salon.

More unusual are the settings of August Corrodi (1826-1885), a Swiss poet, artist and translator (into Swiss-German) of other European poetry. Here we have no less than fourteen poems by Corrodi, each one strophic, extolling simple Romantic virtues of nature, love and goodwill. This is nineteenth century music at its most intimate, music by one friend to poems by another. Presumably they were performed among friends, as well. Eschmann sometimes nods to Schubert or Loewe, as in Irrlicht where two lovers get lost in a dark wood but are sucked into a bog and killed before they can escape. What frisson that long ago singer must have mustered, to the delight of his companions! In Mittags, Eschmann attempts a more complex, rolling accompaniment, to describe the fresh mountain stream that he follows while walking down from the mountains. To audiences of the time, that would have been a common occurrence, one with which they could identify. Similarly, Corrodi writes of cold foggy evenings in Herbstnebel, humorously suggesting that the cure is a touch of alcohol! We have lost that intimate connection with time and situation Eschmann and his circle would have taken for granted. If these performances leave a lot to be desired, thatís no demerit, for the performers in Eschmann and Corrodiís time were ordinary people and friends. To us, these are "just" songs and not very spectacular at that. But to them, these were a direct expression of the lives they experienced, and the values they respected. They were not writing for the wider world or for posterity, but for their own cultivation.

Ultimately it is in these terms that the recording needs to be assessed. So little is known of Swiss poetry and music that it is important to collect such work together. Moreover, because it has no pretensions to be anything other than it is, it is all the more a glimpse into a long lost world of private musicianship in an era long before ours. Nineteenth century Zürich might not have the gloss and glamour of Vienna, Berlin or Munich, but its people enjoyed themselves nonetheless, and made music that drew them together. Itís not something to be sniffed at.

Although this recording was made in Suffolk in 2004, the notes refer to a custom by which the Central Library in Zürich became, each New Year, the focus of community celebrations of music. The citizens contributed to heating the snowbound hall, hiring musicians and enjoying music for its own sake. We should be envious of their dedication and sincerity.

Anne Ozorio

 

 



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