Although comparatively few in number Schurmann's concert works are often substantial and of high musical quality. It is thus encouraging to have it recorded and available for repeated hearings. Although one might be tempted to regard him as an orchestral composer with a number of sizeable pieces to his credit, one should not forget that chamber music, too, was and is important to him as demonstrated by this release.
All works but one were composed between 2002 and 2012 when the composer was in his late eighties. All testify to a remarkable musical vitality for there is nothing of an “old man's music” in these tightly argued and beautiful pieces. Their most striking characteristic is a warm lyricism with the music displaying some wonderful singing lines as well as some well-judged more energetic episodes that include some well-needed and nicely judged contrasts.
Both string quartets are wonderfully written for the medium and one might again wonder why Schurmann did not tackle the genre earlier in his career. Paul Conway's well-informed insert notes tantalizingly mention the existence of two string quartets composed during the 1940s but seemingly discarded.
String Quartet No.1
is in four movements of which the first is by far the weightiest. It opens with an introspective Adagio molto cantabile
as a duet shared by second violin and viola. The other two instruments join in a bit later in subtle accelerations leading into the Allegro
section which briefly slows down for what Mr Conway describes as a “pastoral folk-like subject”. This sounds closer to some Bali-inflected music as heard in Variants
(1970). The movement, however, resumes its impetus cut-short by an "implacable tutti
passage" before two trenchant chords bring the movement to an abrupt close. The second movement is a Scherzo played mostly pizzicato
and seems to hark back to the Playful Pizzicato
from Britten's Simple Symphony
. The music of the eloquent third movement Adagio ed espressivo
speaks for itself although it cannot be said to achieve a clear-cut resolution. The final movement opens emphatically with considerable energy until the music reaches a somewhat slower section revisiting material from the first movement including that Bali-inflected theme before rushing towards its decisive close.
Written shortly before the First String Quartet, the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano
is yet another superbly crafted work displaying a wealth of melodic invention and of lively rhythms although its central movement, a Passacaglia, is somewhat more weighty without being ponderous. Paul Conway coins the appropriate phrase - “autumnal glow” - to describe the overall mood of the music.
Composed for the Lyris Quartet who gave the first performance in 2013 the String Quartet No.2
is more compact than its predecessor. All qualities and characteristics displayed in the First String Quartet again feature prominently here although the music sometimes has rougher edges as in the outer movements which are full of energy. The main difference is to be found in the Scherzo which inhabits a completely different sound-world than its equivalent in the First String Quartet. The playfulness of the First String Quartet is replaced by a more enigmatic stance briefly enlivened by the earthy material of the trio section.
The considerably earlier Fantasia for Cello and Piano
composed in 1967 is rather more tense and both instruments – on equal terms – often engage in heated argument. The original title of the work was Dialogue
which is, I think, closer to the real spirit of the piece. Fantasia
might suggest something more rhapsodic and looser than the actual content of the piece. Mr Conway mentions “the almost Expressionist immediacy of its language. In one way or another, however, Fantasia
is quite gripping and held in full sway by the often impassioned interchanges between the partner instruments. One cannot but wonder why music of such quality and vitality is not heard more often.
This well-filled, superbly played and beautifully recorded disc is most welcome and is a most worthy tribute to Gerard Schurmann who is ninety this year (2014). I must also mention again the well-informed and detailed insert notes from which I have quoted. This and the somewhat earlier Volume 1 (Toccata Classics TOCC0133
) considerably add to one's appraisal of Schurmann's achievement. A splendid release.