Continuum: Symphony at Night
Marco SCHäDLER (b.1964)
Nachtschicht [26:37]
Matthias FROMMELT (b.1975)
*Nocturne (2007) [12:51]
+Turbulenz (2010) [8:48]
*Ohne Namen (2010) [6:06]
Jürg HANSELMANN (b.1960)
Dies Irae Variationen, for two pianos and orchestra (2005) [22:22]
Klavierduo Sandra und Jürg Hanselmann (pianos)
Sinfonieorchester Liechtenstein/Albert Frommelt, +William Maxfield (conductor)
*Sinfonietta Vorarlberg/Benjamin Lack
rec. Kloster Mehrerau, Bregenz, 13-16 July 2010; SAL Schaan, Liechtenstein, 1 May 2010 [Turbulenz]; Vaduzer Saal, Liechtenstein, 25 March, 2007 [Hanselmann]; 18 June 2009 [Schädler]. DDD
CARUS 83.364 [76:46]

Where the title of this new release by Stuttgart-based multimedia publishers Carus, 'Symphony at Night', comes from is not made clear. Continuum is however the name of the Liechtensteinian Composers' Promotion Society, which commissioned these works from local musicians, one from Liechtenstein itself and two from Chur, down the road in Switzerland.

To date, Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) is Liechtenstein's most famous composer by a long way, and even he spent most of his life in Germany. Carus have just re-issued Rheinberger's complete piano works - played by the prolific Jürg Hanselmann, with help from his wife Sandra - on 10 CDs (83.365, previously available on Prezioso), and have been working their way through his choral works. There are already an amazing four volumes of secular music and ten of religious (see review of the most recent, vol. X, here). There’s also a single disc so far of organ music - for which, ironically, Rheinberger is best known to the wider public.

The CD opens with the standout work, Marco Schädler's Nachtschicht ('Nightshift'). Schädler describes the work as "a song of [my] homeland [Chur, Switzerland] without words", but that does not really do it justice. Somewhat Bartókian in its striking rhythms and colours, it is certainly nothing like another Alpensymphonie, though it is imaginatively orchestrated, and in an approachable tonal idiom - like all the music on this CD, in fact.

The other big work is at the other end of the programme: Jürg Hanselmann's Dies Irae Variationen. As indicated above, Hanselmann has made many recordings as a pianist. Most of his compositions are not surprisingly for piano, with a smaller number for orchestra. The Dies Irae Variations combines the two, and the result is most attractive. This work - presumably the same recording - appeared on an earlier CD sponsored by Continuum, which also featured works by Schädler and Frommelt, and which seems to be available now only through Matthias Frommelt's website.

The opening of the Variations sounds like a gentler, elongated Mars (from Holst's The Planets), until the appearance of the famous Dies Irae 'melody', much beloved of Berlioz, Liszt, Rachmaninov and others. Two thirds of the way through there is a direct quotation from Liszt's Totentanz, giving rise to some excellent four hand playing. Otherwise Hanselmann's score is quite different, with little emphasis on piano virtuosity: the duo's role is more one of colourisation than concertante. There are protracted dreamy sections in which the work turns towards the monochrome soundscapes of modern Hollywood film. Nevertheless, the final minutes are totally memorable, with both pianistic and orchestral fireworks and an imaginative, if again somewhat Hollywoodesque, ending. Touchingly, Hanselmann dedicates the work to the memory of those killed by the colossal Asian tsunami in December 2004.

On his half-finished website Matthias Frommelt lists only a handful of works, with the earliest dating back to 2005. Both Frommelt's three-movement Nocturne and his three-movement-in-one Ohne Namen ('Nameless') are fairly conventional and tend towards easy-listening, often sounding like John Barryish scene-painting for a mainstream TV drama. It is hardly a surprise to learn from his biography that he has written music for the mass media industry. His best work here is Turbulenz, helped by the much larger orchestral forces. The notes explain rather blandly that this work is about "blows of fate and overcoming them". There is still a distinct orthodoxy of style, again with something of a soundtrack feel suffusing the work - though now rather more big screen in gestures and vividness. Not a compelling listen by any means - it is fair to say that the title is somewhat misleading. On the other hand it is not uninteresting, and is likely to appeal to today's more generic audiences.

All the performances on this disc are better than might be imagined from such low-key ensembles. The Liechtenstein Symphony Orchestra gives a particularly commendable performance under its founder Albert Frommelt; the booklet does not say whether he is related to Matthias Frommelt.

Sound is pretty good throughout, although the definition in higher registers and at higher volume is not always that clear. There are a few noises off in Schädler's Nachtschicht, including an annoying cougher. The monastery setting for Frommelt's Nocturne is fairly reverberant. Early on in the Dies Irae Variations there is the suspicion of a minor editing join, and, bizarrely, the conductor's voice can be heard for a split second right at the end of the track. Overall though technical quality is more than adequate. The trilingual booklet is nicely informative, although some of the photos are a bit cheesy.

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All the performances on this disc are better than might be imagined from such low-key ensembles.