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Fritz BRUN (1878-1959)
Symphony No.8 in A major for large orchestra (1942) [55:01]
Variations on an original theme for piano and string orchestra (1944) [23:02]
Bonus track – excerpt from variation 8 direct from 78 [1:10]
Studio Orchester Beromünster/Fritz Brun (symphony)
Adrian Aeschbacher (piano)
Collegium Musicum Zurich/Paul Sacher (variations)
rec. 4 October 1946 (symphony) and 23 January 1946 (variations)
GUILD GHCD2351 [79:13]
Experience Classicsonline

Fritz Brun was a pianist, composer and conductor – in my own limited experience, before the arrival of this disc, I’d only encountered his name before in the last capacity. He was born in Lucerne in 1878 and studied piano and music theory with a disparate group of musicians, among them Willem Mengelberg. In 1897 he began studies in Cologne where he made a lifelong friend in Zurich-born Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962). From Cologne he moved to Berlin and from 1903 he worked as a piano teacher in Berne, later becoming more prominent as an orchestral and choral conductor. By 1941 he was devoting himself entirely to composition. 

He’s reckoned to be one of the leading Swiss composers of the time, alongside his old friend Andreae, Hermann Suter (1870-1926) and Schoeck (1886-1957). The last comparison is, on this evidence, very misleading. Brun’s muse was oriented strongly towards Bruckner and the Eighth Symphony, written in 1942, and heard in a performance directed by the composer in 1946, is a heavyweight contribution to the symphonic literature of his time. 

Classically conceived and with a programmatic and narrative thread – the four movements correspond to four times during the day – this is an example of ardent assimilation of Brucknerian models. The opening (midday) starts with fanfare elements, a vibrancy but also a certain stridency of utterance as well, one that thins to lightly-grained orchestration for more intimate material. It’s notable that Brun avoids starting with dawn, thus offering a somewhat more skewed and non-linear approach to his material, one that gives one the chance to begin with vital energy rather than drowsy awakening. The slow movement is based on a folksong and is again bathed in Bruckner – sectional, lyric but not in the last resort especially distinctive though once more orchestrated with skill. The horns are certainly burnished. The third movement, heard as if ‘by lamplight’, is warmly textured – the bass clarinet prominent – and the wind section offers other wispy, insect pleasures in the alfresco evening. The finale begins with murky quasi-impressionist refraction before some perky Straussian elements and lyric curlicues enliven proceedings. The pacing is canny, the sturdy march themes sinewy. 

The companion work is the Variations on an original theme for piano and string orchestra, written two years later and performed here by Adrian Aeschbacher (piano) with the Collegium Musicum Zurich under Paul Sacher in 1946. This is necessarily a more concise work, one that seems to pay homage to the memory of the Siegfried Idyll, and maybe also, sideways, to Frank Martin.  Aeschbacher, who is perhaps best remembered on record for his collaboration with Furtwängler (and van Kempen) in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, plays with authority and control. It’s a work strong on internal dynamic contrasts, on clever moments of chamber intimacy, on easeful reflection and subtle conjunctions of orchestral voicings.

The recording is a bit boxy but a pre-edited fragment from the original 78 is included to show one how the engineers have worked on the source material to its strong advantage. The Symphony has a rather muddy sound but it’s perfectly serviceable for its vintage. There are helpful notes in German and English.

Jonathan Woolf


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