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Martin SCHERBER (1907-1974)
Symphony No. 2 in F minor (1951-52) [46:00]
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra Moscow/Samuel Friedmann
rec. Oct/Nov 2002, Russian Broadcast and Recording Department, Studio 5, Moscow, world premiere recording.
CASCADE MEDIA 05116 [46:00]

Martin SCHERBER (1907-1974)
Symphony No. 3 in B minor (1952-55) [53:42]
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Elmar Lampson
rec. Staatsphilharmonie, Rheinland-Pfalz, Ludwigshafen, Germany. 13-16 Apr 1999, world premiere recording
COL LEGNO WWE1CD20078 [53:42]

Ignorance is not always bliss. When Adriano, the conductor of an impending first recording of Martin Scherber's First Symphony, mentioned the name it was the first time I had come across it. To the best of my knowledge I had never heard any of Scherber's music until I was introduced to it via these two discs. By the way, in August 2014 the First Symphony was recorded by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adriano and can be expected to be issued by Guild.

Details of the life and music of this German composer can be found at the website established in his name by Bruckner-Kreis Nürnberg and Friedwart M. Kurras. An outline might run as follows. Born in Nuremberg into a musical family, his gifts as a pianist arose early. His first compositions were at the age of thirteen. From 1925 he attended the State Academy of Music in Munich. In 1929 he was appointed répétiteur in Aussig on the River Elbe and he soon pursued a career as conductor and choir leader. Withdrawing from the public eye in 1933, he became a free-lance composer and music teacher in Nuremberg. He saw military service and imprisonment (1941-46). The three so-called 'Metamorphosis Symphonies' are his main works. These were published in Nuremberg in 1971-73 as one of the contributions to Albrecht-Dürer-Year 1971 (the 500th Anniversary of the artist’s birth). In 1948-50 Scherber made a piano reduction of Bruckner's Third Symphony. The influence of Bruckner can be felt throughout although it is by no means suffocating. In 1970 while out walking Scherber was struck by a drunk driver and confined to a wheel-chair. He died in 1974 as a consequence of the accident with a Fourth Symphony and an opera unfinished.

Of the Second Symphony Scherber wrote in 1962: "I may perhaps suggest, that just this [work] is not a composition but a Mysterium - also for me! ... Like a prospective mother I experienced the process of bringing it forth, only not so unconsciously; I experienced, how those world powers which create mankind, wanted to reveal themselves in an audible way." The work was premiered on 24 January 1957 in Lüneburg by the Niedersächsischen Sinfonie-Orchester Hannover under Fred Thürmer - the same forces had premiered the First Symphony (1938) at Luneburg on 11 March 1952.

The Second Symphony is warmly recorded. There is none of the bright jangle of Mahler. It is unremittingly serious, head-bowed and self-possessed. This is among the most untheatrical of symphonies and is not a sonic spectacular in any glitzy sense. The first movement is notable for some typically Brucknerian accelerating ostinato cells. In fact the whole work seems to reference that composer with drenched and saturated strings and not a scintilla of twentieth century modernism. After a second movement where spirituality is the watchword, the third sings out with a Korngoldian generosity of heart. This gives way to buzzing tension at the end and sombre clouds scud across the horizon. The fourth embodies a clash of hammerhead-clouds as well as a raw abrasion that marks the music out as different. In the final movement things lighten and there is much work for soloistic woodwind voices from the orchestra. Then magnetic North re-asserts itself with groaning strings pressing forward in a presumably unconscious echo of the great Largo of Shostakovich 6. The symphony ends with the indomitable pounding spirit to be heard in Bruno Walter's First Symphony, which I must add is more vibrantly coloured than these two Scherber symphonies.

The Third Symphony is in one huge and monumentally tense movement. It's a shame that it was not multi-tracked into bar sections as was done by Bis in the case of Allan Pettersson's Thirteenth Symphony. However, breaking up the span in that way would probably have run counter to the composer's wishes. At the start a quiet and almost sly figure insinuates its way into view. Brucknerian intensity rises to a brilliant brassy climax at 2.00 and a whirling maelstrom of sound surfaces at 11:03. The work is characterised by the stormy roar of mountain-top drama racing away, piled and blasted higher and higher. There's certainly plenty for the brass to do until 17:27 when there is a slow fade down to the pattering music of the opening bars and with woodwind wisps and shreds. This quiet rustling eventually gives way to a confiding slow-motion 'gallop' with a long melody for the strings over the top.

The liner notes for each of the two well performed and resonantly recorded discs are excellent with the Col Legno particularly helpful. Texts are multi-lingual, including translation into English.

Rob Barnett



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