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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Swiss Aspects - Orchestral Music from Argovia
Walther GEISER (1897-1993)
Fantasie II
(1945) [16.30]
Heinrich SUTERMEISTER (1910-1995)
Marche fantasque
Peter MIEG (1906-1990)
Concerto da Camera
(1952) [17.34]
János TAMÁS (1936-1995)
(1958) [10.48]
Ernst WIDMER (1927-1990)
Quasars Op 69 (1970) [12.21]
Rafael Rütti (piano) (Mieg)
Argovia Philharmonic/Douglas Bostock
rec. live, Kultur & Kongresshaus, Aarau (Switzerland), 28 April 2013
COVIELLO COV31314 [69.35]

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 far.

The first piece on the disc is by the long-lived Walter Geiser who had been a pupil of Busoni, amongst others. His style is late-Romantic but I heard Karl Amadeus Hartmann in there occasionally. Fantasie II 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 and re-hearing.

There's no doubt that Heinrich Sutermeister's March fantasque 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.

János Tamás 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 music.

As you listen to Peter Mieg's four movement Concerto da Camera, clearly a neo-classically inspired work, two other pieces might come to mind: his compatriot Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie Concertante 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 Quasars 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.

Gary Higginson