from the Classical Shop
Kurt SCHWERTSIK (b.1935)
Nachtmusiken, op.104 (2010) [23:30]
Herr K. Entdeckt Amerika, op.101 (2008) [14:38]
Baumgesänge, op.65 (1992) [21:26]
BBC Philharmonic/H K Gruber
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, England, 4-6
August 2010. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10687 [59:52]
To read that, as a young man, Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik
attended the same classes as Stockhausen, Nono, Cage and Kagel,
and was a close friend of Cornelius Cardew, might set alarm
bells ringing in some people. These are hardly stayed by the
fact that the conductor on this disc is H K Gruber, another
colleague and good friend - to judge by the photos, the two
could almost be brothers! Yet Schwertsik turned his back on
the trendy avant-garde almost right away, and for most music-lovers,
acquiring a taste for his music should be as straightforward
as acquiring this CD.
The composition dates can be put aside as immaterial: this is
a disc of elegantly orchestrated, witty, generally melodic,
almost film-suite-style music, written for audience enjoyment
rather than maven approbation. It is hard not to hear other
composers in Schwertsik's writing. Shostakovich, Stravinsky,
Copland, Arnold, Prokofiev and especially, and repeatedly, Mahler
are all brought to mind here, where not directly paraphrased
- and perhaps therein lies his certain appeal to a wider public.
So much is obvious from the seductive Nachtmusiken op.104
that opens the programme, an atmospheric five-movement sequence
"of urban nocturnes, elegies, memories and philosophisings
under the cloak of darkness."
On the other hand, Schwertsik is probably not going to win many
prizes for originality. Gruber writes that Schwertsik's music
is "not for superficial listeners". Truthfully it
lends itself well to a typically 21st century listening environment,
in that its ideas combine to create a warm quilt of agreeable
sounds, light drama, gentle irony and limpid structure requiring
no concentrated effort to appreciate.
The Kafka-inspired Herr K Entdeckt Amerika, according
to the notes, has little obviously programmatic or even overtly
American content, despite the fact that movement headings -
'Crossing' - 'At the Hotel' - 'Travelling' - 'The Nature Theater
of Oklahoma' - appear to indicate otherwise. As an off-the-peg
four part suite-cum-ballet, subtitled a 'Sonatina for orchestra',
it is just as easy to enjoy - an innocuous work, not a great
one, but again with wide appeal. For a composer still massively
under-recorded, it is a pity in a way that, following these
two premiere recordings, Gruber and Chandos chose to add Baumgesänge,
op.65, which appeared in 2004 on ABC Classics - see review.
On balance, it is probably a good thing for posterity to have
two recordings of it, but this is already a shortish disc, and
prospective purchasers are entitled to wonder why one of Schwertsik's
several concertos, for example, was not recorded instead - or
as well. At any rate, in Baumgesänge Schwertsik
writes that he has "tried to give trees a voice" -
a novel idea, to say the least. Whether or not said objective
is achieved, this is another attractive, cinematographic work
that builds to an exciting finale.
The BBC Philharmonic under their latest "Composer/Conductor"
H K Gruber sound in typically fine form. Recording quality is
very good. The trilingual booklet notes are written by Gruber
and Calum MacDonald, intelligent and informative. It should
be said, however, that Chandos do waste a shocking amount of
paper with their absurdly compacted paragraphs - the 36 sides
are only about a third of that in real money. Nor will their
small faint font appeal to those whose eyesight is not what
it once was. The track-listing spells the German 'aggressiv'
wrong twice, and there are two track 15s.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
See also review
by Nick Barnard