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Max KUHN (1896-1994)
Instrumental Music and Songs
Introduktion und Allegro für Oboe und Klavier [8:28]
Shiffern und Kapitänen von Albert Ehrismann 6 Lieder für Alto (oder Bariton) und Klavier [13:58]
Gedicht aus der Chinesischen Flöte von Hans Bethge [4:33]
Nachdichtungen der Lieder des Hafis, Hans Bethge [2:20]
Gedicht von R. G. Binding [2:16]
Text von A. Ehrismann [2:25]
Suite für Oboe Solo [8:25]
3 Préludes für Klavier [5:53]
Drei Klavierstücke [7:42]
John Anderson (oboe)
Jeanette Ager (mezzo)
Sophia Rahman (piano)
rec. 12-13 June 2004, St Paul’s Boys’ School, Hammersmith, London. DDD
GUILD GMCD 7284 [57:42]


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While not being a composer of particularly striking originality, the Swiss Max Kuhn has much to offer. This disc presents a useful cross-section of Kuhn’s work as a writer of songs and instrumental music. The three performers offer us music for voice and piano, oboe and piano, solo oboe and solo piano.

The immediate and lasting impression is that Kuhn wrote profound and intensely serious music. He was plainly concerned with structure and copious use is made of contrapuntal techniques - most noticeably in the instrumental music. The sombre Introduktion und Allegro that opens the disc – in which the oboe is unfortunately a little distant and often drowned by the piano – also reveals a climactic quality to the writing with much chromatic movement, providing an unsettled and yet constantly fresh and open air quality when the Allegro is reached.

The eleven songs gathered here are framed in the middle of the disc by the instrumental music. They represent some of the most beautiful and responsive writing. The songs are admirable representations of the chosen texts and were written at various times between the 1920s and 1950s. They are more representative of the early part of Kuhn’s career, and as a result are not as openly chromatic as the later instrumental works. Eight of the song texts are by the Zurich-born poet and close contemporary of Kuhn’s, Albert Ehrismann, and the remaining three settings are of anonymous texts. Kuhn is obviously at ease writing in this medium, an effortless flowing quality pervading each of the songs.

The Suite für Oboe Solo of 1965 is suitably brief and inventive as to not become wearisome. Split into four short movements, it thankfully does not suffer in any way from having no accompaniment. It is based on and developed from a theme taken from the name of the singer Elisabeth Salzmann, to whom the suite is dedicated.

The 3 Préludes for piano are the latest work on the disc and here the music is the most developed chromatically. The preludes are particularly well matched with the Drei Klavierstücke that follow and were written some 13 years earlier. In both collections of three pieces, counterpoint is the overriding technique; the influence of the Baroque is also clear and particularly the Baroque at its most chromatic. Dense and dark fugal material stands alongside lighter two-part invention, although at times the piano writing veers dangerously towards an empty display of technique.

With a sufficient variety of styles, this disc can leave a slight question mark as to what Max Kuhn’s individual style is, beyond that of a post-Romantic. In my opinion, the songs are the closest thing to an answer to that question, with much more than an outstanding compositional technique being poured into them and a natural lyrical ability breaking through.  

John Anderson, Jeanette Ager and Sophia Rahman all give highly commendable performances of these works, but the songs do stand out representing some of the best music here. The booklet notes provided by Malcolm MacDonald are detailed and informative, while the recording quality is mostly of a high standard, with only occasional balance issues. Overall, this is a valuable introduction to Kuhn and his music.

Adam Binks

See also Review by Dominy Clements




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