Hans Huber was little more than a name to me, but I wish I’d discovered him sooner. The Swiss composer studied in Leipzig before returning to the country of his birth where he taught, in Basel. He was the Music School’s Dean from 1896 until his death in 1921. He wrote eight symphonies, five operas, four piano concertos, a violin concerto and a considerable amount of chamber music.
This is what Guild presents, in the shape of three works for violin and piano written between around 1870 and 1900. Huber impresses me for his excellent melodic gifts, his sure deployment of lyric material traced between violin and piano, his highly expressive and atmospheric writing and his propensity for chorale-like motifs that gather considerable depth as they are developed. I am also highly impressed by these interpreters, who serve him with devotion and considerable skill, both digitally and emotively.
The Phantasie is an early work, written around 1870. Its four movements gather momentum and direction as they develop, revealing something of a debt to Schumann but full of dashing writing in the Prestissimo section and a real gift for profuse lyric fluency throughout. He characterises well too – both the chorale and the rich chordal trio of the – in effect – Scherzo possess real staying power. The finale is rich but also feisty, and drives toward a satisfying and powerful conclusion.
This was a work of a teenager, and a mighty impressive work too. It doesn’t seem at all schematic, or academic or slavish. In fact it’s overflowing with feeling. By the time we reach the Fifth Violin Sonata of 1897 over a quarter of a century had passed, and Huber’s Late Romanticism is now distinctly tinged with Brahmsian impressions. But the melodic inspiration remains elastic, expressive and full of plangent phrasing. Huber occasionally seems to have based his structural plans on Beethoven. I have a hunch that he based this sonata on Beethoven’s Op.109 Piano Sonata. An Allegretto is followed by a brisk Presto agitato and to end we have an Allegretto ma non troppo e cantabile. The central movement’s piano writing seems more than to hint at Op.109 and the whole sonata seems predicated on its influence. But Huber’s lovely cantabile writing, his warmth and wisdom is always in evidence. Does he hint at the Siegfried Idyll in the finale for a reason? Is there a musico-biographical element at work?
The Sixth Sonata is another splendid work, dedicated to Hubay. It’s something of a concertante sonata, but one with a seamless control of span, not least in the long and tricky first movement. There is some lovely writing for the piano, as well as residual Brahmsian qualities too. The slow movement is passionately declaimed, complete with a Regerian three part fugue, and though this sounds on paper formidably academic, in practice it works extremely well. There’s even a Spanish tinge in the jaunty finale and an exultant close.
Beautifully recorded and neatly annotated, this disc has taken me very much by surprise. It’s an absolute winner.
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by Rob Barnett