It's one thing not knowing much about Swiss music, - yes I know about
Honegger and Frank Martin and even Fritz Brun - but music by Argovian
composers seems to be particularly obscure. One of my pupils even commented
"where the bl.. hell is Argovia?" Well, it's one of the northern cantons of
Switzerland and, on the Internet, very beautiful it looks too.
This disc presents a recording of a live concert celebrating fifty years
of the Argovia Philharmonic, rather little known over here in the UK. It
decided to concentrate its birthday efforts on five composers from their own
region of whom the wider public probably know next to nothing.
Douglas Bostock is an absolute wonder. He is so often found exploring
little known areas of the orchestral repertoire of the twentieth century and
sometimes earlier. In addition he achieves marvellous results from sometimes
little known orchestras as clearly demonstrated here. Also the recording is
exemplary - spacious and clear. Definitely my recording of the year so
The first piece on the disc is by the long-lived Walter
who had been a pupil of Busoni, amongst others. His style is
late-Romantic but I heard Karl Amadeus Hartmann in there occasionally.
of 1945 reflects on the war just ended. Switzerland was
neutral and the piece does have a sense of distance in its philosophical but
mourning and sympathetic atmosphere. This gives the slow introduction a
weighty and contemplative tone. The music then bursts into a violent allegro
and sinks back into melancholic, elegiac melody. The ending has a sense of
fulfilment and relief but not joy. It's a fine work and well worth hearing
There's no doubt that Heinrich Sutermeister
is an exciting piece. Its Orff-like ostinato tone clusters in
the piano under the large orchestra's gradually building war-like power
feature alongside a mechanistic Honegger-like rhythm. Orff was his teacher
and Honegger his early inspiration. Apparently the composer worked under the
Nazi regime for which he has been much criticised. He wrote operas which, if
this piece is anything to go by, prove that he must have had a strong sense
of the dramatic.
was born in Hungary and his Serenade
brings with it a sense of Bartók and Kodály in it use of modality. It is
often quite polyphonic and loose-limbed but builds to a complex, polyphonic
climax. It was written when the composer was just out of nappies as it were.
I felt its orchestration was at times a little thick and also that it needed
some extra colour but it left me wanting to hear some of his later
As you listen to Peter Mieg
's four movement Concerto
, clearly a neo-classically inspired work, two other pieces
might come to mind: his compatriot Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie
of 1949 is one. Mieg in his second movement plays, as does
Martin, with a tone row. You might also think of Martinu's Concerto for
Double String Orchestra
of 1938 which is also scored with piano and
timpani. In his third movement Mieg's use of overlapping and syncopated
textures especially reminded me of the Czech master. Yet Mieg also has his
own voice, which is more witty and lyrical than either Martin or Martinu. He
also has a stronger sense of harmonic movement. This is the longest piece on
the CD and one of the most arresting.
Verna Naegele, in her detailed and fascinating booklet essay, describes
by Ernst Widmer
as '"A rather
unspectacular work, which encourages reflection and philosophising". I find
myself in agreement but slightly regret that another Widmer piece had not
been chosen. This composer left Switzerland as early as 1956 for Brazil and
then proceeded to "often incorporate Brazilian folk idioms in his works".
Something demonstrating that aspect might have been especially interesting
considering that Villa-Lobos was still alive at that time; there are
apparently over 170 Widmer works to chose from. Anyway this piece reminded
me a little of Ligeti in its slow-moving or static textures. You get those
same orchestral sounds that seem to oscillate from the inside; very
appropriate you might think for the title which the music captures superbly,
never developing but always changing.
This CD will appeal strongly to anyone searching around for something
different. It's eclectic, wonderfully played and recorded and full of
interest. Do search it out.