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Carl RÜTTI (b. 1949)
Symphony ‘The Visions of Niklaus von Flüe’ (2013) [65:32]
Caspar DIETHELM (1926-1997)
Passacaglia for string orchestra. ‘A white Christmas rose on the small grave’, Op. 324 (1996) [4:43]
Consolatio for string orchestra, Op. 324a (1996) [3:03]
‘Now the path completes the circle’. 12 Segments for string orchestra, Op 338 (1996) [19:07]
Maria C. Schmid (soprano); Martin Heini (organ); Mario Schubiger (percussion); The State Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Novosibirsk/Rainer Held
rec. 2014, Pfarrkiche St Katharina, Horw, Switzerland
Middle High German text and English and German translations included
GUILD GMCD7407/2 [65:32 + 26:53]

I’ve heard and admired quite a bit of Carl Rütti’s choral and organ music though much of what I’ve heard to date has consisted of fairly short pieces. The most substantial of his scores that has so far come my way has been his Requiem, composed in 2007 (review). So I approached this recent score with no little interest.

Rütti’s Symphony is scored for soprano, organ, percussion (one player) and string orchestra. It includes settings of texts by the Swiss mystic and hermit, Niklaus von Flüe (1417-1487). In a booklet note the composer tells us about von Flüe, also known as Brother Klaus. He lived a full life as a successful farmer and politician and was married with ten children. However, he came increasingly to feel called to the life of a recluse. Accordingly, with the agreement of his wife he left the family home at the age of fifty and spent the last twenty years of his life in solitude. During this time of solitude he had visions, which his grandson wrote down and these visions form the text that Rütti has chosen to set. I have to say straightaway that I found the texts very difficult to follow. The texts and an English translation are provided. However, the original text, which is quite substantial, appears in the booklet on pages that are separate from the English translation – though the modern German translation is printed side-by-side with the original. As there’s a lot of text to follow it’s not easy to know where you are if you’re a non-German speaker. Furthermore, the texts are printed in a very small font so I found trying to follow the words for an extended period of time quite a trial. That’s important because the solo soprano role is extremely important: I’d estimate that the singer is involved for about 90% of the symphony’s duration.

The score is divided into seven sections. However, these sections are grouped so that, for instance, the first three, which cover the First Vision, effectively form the symphony’s first movement. The fourth section, the Second Vision stands alone as the symphony’s slow movement. Then two more sections, the Third Vision, constitute the scherzo and trio. There’s a surprisingly brief final movement, entitled ‘Amen’.

The symphony starts very atmospherically with a short and mainly quiet instrumental introduction entitled ‘Of the Sunrise’. Here Rütti’s imaginative, delicate textures beguile the ear; the listener is left wanting more. The soprano then relates Brother Klaus’s encounter with ‘The Pilgrim of the Sunrise’ Immediately Maria C. Schmid makes a strong impression. Her voice is pure and clear-toned. Her intonation seems infallible and she negotiates the frequent high-lying portions of the vocal part with agility and great assurance. Her singing is on this level of accomplishment throughout the performance and since she is required to sing so much one can only admire her stamina and consistency.

The third section begins with a driving, indeed frenzied instrumental toccata. There’s some exciting writing for the organ and the predominant percussion sound is that of tom-toms. At about 5:14 the tempo slows for a while and the singer returns to relate the last portion of the First Vision, ‘The Truth’. Here the pilgrim is revealed to have the visage of Christ.

The Second Vision, ‘The Tent’, is related in an extended stand-alone slow movement. This describes a night-time visit that Brother Klaus makes to a family who live nearby, dwelling in a tent. The music unfolds slowly and for much of the time the atmosphere is very tranquil. The movement is mysterious and beautiful and Rütti beguiles the listener with gently luminous harmonies. There’s a hypnotic quality to this movement and Miss Schmid and the instrumentalists deliver it with great sensitivity. The first time I listened to the recording I wrote in my notes that this movement was the highlight of the symphony and nothing I heard in the rest of the score or in further listening changed that view.

What is, in effect, the third movement of the symphony opens with an instrumental scherzo entitled ‘Fountain Dance’. This is quite brief and for the most part the textures are light. There follows the Third Vision in which Brother Klaus encounters ‘The Poor Workers’. This may be taken as the trio – the tempo slows for a few minutes – and then the Fountain Dance is reprised, this time as an accompaniment to the soprano’s continuation of the narrative.

The short Finale, ‘The Face in the Golden Circle’, begins quietly and gradually expands to the loudest music in the whole work. I may be wrong but here I think the soprano part is wordless; it’s certainly ecstatic.

This symphony is a most interesting work. As far as I can judge, not having heard the music before, the present performance is superb, radiating both assurance and conviction. The recording was made in a Swiss Roman Catholic church and it seems to me that not only have the engineers judged the balances most effectively but also they’ve used the very pleasing resonance of the church’s acoustic to excellent effect. Incidentally, a full specification of the organ is provided but for some reason it’s tucked away on the inside of the tray in which the discs are housed: I didn’t spot it until I came to take out the second CD for the first time.

This second disc, which has a much shorter playing time, is given over to three works for string orchestra by a composer whose name and music were completely new to me. The Swiss composer, Caspar Diethelm was a native of Lucerne. Among his composition teachers were Hindemith and Honegger. He taught at the Lucerne Conservatoire between 1963 and 1993. Besides a busy musical life he was heavily involved in politics and in conservation. As can be deduced from the opus numbers of the three works recorded here, he was a prolific composer. The three compositions in question were written in the last year of his life – the 12 Segments for string orchestra were completed only weeks before he died.

The Passacaglia bears the title ‘A white Christmas rose on the small grave’. The note in the booklet is by Esther Diethelm and she tells us that the grave to which the title refers is that of Caspar’s daughter, Jutta, who died in 1992. The piece may be short in length but it’s powerful and intense; clearly – and unsurprisingly - strong emotions were at play here. Sharing the same opus number is Consolatio and as the title implies the tone of the music is, perhaps, more accepting. However, the work is no less serious of purpose than its companion piece.

Twelve Segments for string orchestra consists of short movements – most are less than two minutes in duration – and it’s helpful that each is separately tracked on the CD. Most of the individual component pieces are in moderate or slow tempo – only five of them are marked to be taken quickly. However, there’s a good deal of variety in the music and despite the preponderance of slow-moving music I think that Esther Diethelm is right to say that the work “has almost divertimento characteristics”. The composer was evidently highly experienced in writing for strings and he wove into his score a good number of solo opportunities for the principal players of the orchestra; here these are all taken very well indeed. It’s attractive, well-crafted music and the performance appears to be expert. As with the Rütti symphony, Diethelm’s music has been accorded very good recorded sound.

There’s some interesting music on this pair of discs and opportunities to hear these pieces are unlikely to be frequent. The programme spills over onto two CDs but I believe that Guild offer the set at an advantageous price, making this a competitive proposition for collectors who are keen to explore less familiar repertoire in expert performances.

John Quinn



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