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CD: Crotchet


Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904-1985)
Introduction and Fugue (1932, orch. 1949) [11:34]
Symphony in C (1963) [27:01]
Sinfonia diatonica (1957) [27:05] (world premiere recording)
Staatskapelle Weimar/José Serebrier
rec. 26-28 February 2007, CCN Weimarhalle, Weimar. DDD
Notes by Christoph Schlüren and Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling
NAXOS 8.570435 [65:40]
Experience Classicsonline

A few days before receiving this disc I received an order from another source that included a disk conducted by Jose Serebrier (reissued from the 1970s) and another of music by Schwarz-Schilling’s teacher and idol Heinrich Kaminski. These coincidences served to remind me both of the varied career of Serebrier and the noteworthy background of Schwarz-Schilling.
Although he studied with several professors, including Walter Braunfels, Schwarz-Schilling learned the most from Kaminski and remained very close to him for the rest of the latter’s life. After 1933, both composers, along with Heinz Schubert, went into internal exile in varying degrees and in spite of consistent prodding Schwarz-Schilling resolutely refused to join the Nazi party. Schubert disappeared in 1945, most likely killed by the Gestapo. Kaminski died only a year after the end of the war. This left Schwarz-Schilling the only member of the little group alive, but fortunately he lived forty more years to compose a number of works, especially religious ones, all of which combine the back-to-Bach (and before) elements of Kaminski with a high-minded striving towards a simplicity all his own.
On this disc we have three of the composer’s orchestral works or actually two-and-a half since the Introduction and Fugue is an arrangement for string orchestra of the first movement of his 1932 Quartet in F-minor. While the influence of both Bruckner and Kaminski is evident, another composer, one known for his quartets, is also present: Beethoven. Counterpoint is extremely important in this piece as the composer uses it as a means to achieve harmonic richness. The fugue subject is based on the theme of the Introduction and is quite a contrast: light-hearted rather than severe. This element and the imaginative handling of fugue procedure make for an attractive work
The Sinfonia Diatonica dates from 1957. The title indicates that the composer uses the melodic (whole-step) degrees of the scale, without much recourse to chromaticism. He has said that the first movement is dramatic/tragic, the second mystical and the third dance-like. The brass introduction to the first movement is impressive. It is followed by three thematic groups which are contrasted and combined. But what really keeps the movement going is the rhythmic energy. The largo middle movement is sometimes played by itself and consists of a canonic first section, quite inventive, followed by a mysterious middle section. The final section has that Renaissance feeling that also surfaced in the Introduction and Fugue and combines elements of the first two sections. The largo is definitely the highlight of the work. The third movement I found disappointing after the first two.
The Symphony in C followed in 1964. Here everything revolves around the central key of C. This produces a purity of harmonic expression that is very serene and uplifting. The first movement proper consists of the alternation of two thematic complexes. Again, the rhythmic element is of the utmost importance. In the following andante we have a monothematic movement in which the counterpoint is the driving force and in which deep emotion alternates with agitation. I was reminded of the symphonies of Havergal Brian in this regard. Also like Brian there is an underlying frustration which is resolved though an increase of monumentality followed by a dying away of intensity. The last movement has three sections (the first two repeated) with the first section continuing some of the violence of the second movement and the second section varying the same material in a number of ways. The abbreviated third section takes this basic material even further before a sonorous finale.
As to José Serebrier I must confess that I was surprised to see him as the conductor for this disk. Although he has recorded everything from Menotti to Handel and Chadwick to Ravel, to the best of my knowledge this CD constitutes new territory even for Serebrier and he handles it just as well as the others. His rhythms are exactly right and he gets the required sound from the players. The orchestra plays very well, especially in regard to the detail that is so important in the music of the Kaminski school. One could have asked for more from the recording however. The all-important woodwinds sometimes sound shrill and the overall sound is not as lifelike as one would like.
From the above one can see that this music may not be for everyone. It is severe and does not extend itself to meet the listener. On the other hand, its sincerity cannot be doubted and it fills a major gap in our knowledge of post-war German music. For this reason alone it is worthy of note.
William Kreindler


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