The German composer
Stephan was born in Worms and studied
with Bernhard Sekles and Rudolf Louis.
As may be gathered from the works listed
in the header he had little time for
fanciful and poetic titles. His first
work was called simply Opus 1 for
Orchestra. His penchant for grey
and unengaging titles has no doubt played
its part in his music sinking from sight.
His death in Galicia in September 1915
and the destruction of most of his papers
in the Allied bombing towards the end
of World War 2 did not help either.
While the titles reject
romance and fairytale notions the music
itself is saturated in romantic sensibility
and diaphanously impressionistic textures.
Listen to the sighing of the orchestra
in the Music for Violin and Orchestra
at 09:02. Stephan wrote music of Korngoldian
voluptuousness as in the ursine brass
raptures at 12:45. Otherwise the music
tracks through other allusions - some
possible some impossible as influences:
Stravinsky's Firebird, Debussy's
Faune and Delius's tone poems
and violin concerto. An insistent rhythmic
tag pre-echoes William Schuman of all
people. The fluttering pulse and tenderness
is the antithesis of the ‘Kolossal’
in German music and leans more towards
Berg and the glimmering skein of sound
typified by the sheen and shimmer of
the start of Trapp's Homerisch Symphonie.
All in all this is a poetic work that
links with such masterpieces as Szymanowski's
Third Symphony and First Violin Concerto.
Good to see and hear Sergey Stadler
again. The last time I heard him was
when he recorded the Tischenko second
violin concerto and a composite disc
of concertos by Lvov, Conus and Arensky.
I see that he has been active as a conductor
giving Russian premieres of the Turangalila
and of Berlioz's Les Troyens.
After too short a pause
comes the 1910 Music for Orchestra.
Once again there is that lambency and
languor we find in Delius and Debussy.
This pervasive dreamy warmth and the
shifting activity of his orchestral
canvas also recalls Schoenberg's Pelleas
et Melisande and the lapidary invention
of parts of the Gurrelieder.
The progress of the music has a sense
of self-discovery and spontaneous reaction
- truly rhapsodic - which also points
towards Scriabin. A tolling Baxian climax
arises at 13:43 onwards. A tragically
heavy, even suffocating, magnificence
carries over into another climax at
19:30 onwards. Here organ and brass
temporarily crush out every breath of
air. When stillness and quietness returns
from the echoing tam-tam legacy of that
climax we are ushered back into a much
more intimate world. Daniel Kossov's
solo violin sings a line of Straussian
filigree before a brooding Hollywoodian
outburst that again fades to niente
before a fanfaring optimism calls
out from on high. I can't help thinking
that the closing pages are unconvincing
and that valedictory niente is
where the work really ends.
The 1912 Music for
Orchestra was presented at the Allgemeiner
Deutscher Musikverein in 1912 and 1913.
The baritonal drift and haze of the
music provides a backdrop to the soft
presence of cor anglais and bass clarinet
solos. A pause closes this section.
The next is resolute and emphatic with
once again those Scriabin-like magnificent
excrescences from the brass. The trembling
and pregnantly tense strings at 5:45
onwards fade and give way to manic brass
and a drum-roll accentuated urgency.
The commanding brass writing, as with
that in the other works, has an incongruous
similarity with that in Bax's Fifth
Symphony of 1932. There are moments
when Stephan has not achieved a complete
synthesis as in the frankly Brucknerian
clamancy of the brass at 14:48. Here
the double harp upbeat and punched out
fortissimo gestures work more convincingly
than with its 1910 namesake.
His use of the title
Music for Orchestra recalls the
work of the same title written by Constant
Lambert in the 1920s - a work recently
issued by Dutton in an archive 1950s
recording conducted by the composer.
taking time off from his Arts Shostakovich
cycle, immerses himself and his orchestra
in the opulence of these scores. The
Blackwood Hall is captured far more
sympathetically than on the ABC Classics
Dene Olding recording of 20th century
I listened to this
SACD on a CD player.
If this music, saturatedly
romantic yet knowing, appeals then don't
forget to try to track down the Koch
CD of four Stephan works [review]
and the Pan Classics version of Music
for Violin and Orchestra [review].
Other composers that may appeal in the
same vein include the contemporaneous
Berlin-based works of the Spanish composer
Andrès Isasi (Claves review)
and Charles Griffes on (Naxos review).
The documentation is
by Gordon Kerry who might, I hope, take
an interest in Chandos recording Marx's
Herbstsinfonie, the orchestral
work of another Great War casualty,
Hugo Bienstock and such obstinately
obscure ambitious works as August Bungert’s
Die Erstes Fahrt Zeppelin and
the same composer’s operatic tetralogy
One for those with
a taste for rhapsodic opulent late-romantic