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Friedrich CERHA (b. 1926)
8 Sätze nach Hölderlin-Fragmenten for String Sextet (1995) [22:55]
Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet (2007) [17:07]
9 Bagatellen for String Trio (2008) [14:54]
Swiss Chamber Soloists
rec. 2015, Radiostudio, Zürich Brunnenhof, Switzerland
CLAVES 50-1816 [55:06]

The living Viennese composer Friedrich Cerha has various claims on posterity. With Kurt Schwertsik he founded the new music ensemble Die Reihe in 1958. In the early 1970s two events brought his name to many with an interest in the arts. There were three LPs on Candide-Vox-Turnabout which reached out to enquiring minds across most of the globe: vinyls of the works of Ligeti, Varèse and Satie's Socrate - he was the conductor. He slaved away at completing Act III of Berg's Lulu and brought the opera to fruition in such a way that the work can hardly be imagined without the Cerha contribution (DG CD conducted by Boulez and at least two DVDs of productions using his handiwork: 2009 and 2015). Beyond this, he is massively productive as a composer with CDs from, amongst other labels, Kairos, Wergo and Neos. His creative work in many genres includes concertos for saxophone, violin, cello and trombone. All this was achieved despite or because of the wild upheaval of the Second World War. Cerha writes that "… despite my old age, I am constantly in search of something new. The path I take invariably leads to my own self. I must therefore constantly reveal new facets of my personality. Intensive musical practice allows the musician to find himself - it is the same for the listener."

His chamber music is multitudinous even without that destroyed string quartet (1940). The pieces for violin and piano have been collected on a Toccata CD. Now this short-running disc arrives from the Swiss company Claves. The movements of these three pieces, written 1995-2008, are quite short, giving the listener twenty tracks across 55 minutes. The music is dissonant and inventive.

The Eight Movements after the Hölderlin-Fragmenten indulge super-romanticism but through complex tonality. In the first Movement we hear writing that is almost Korngold: simultaneously sweet, elegiac and bleak. Along the way we are treated to angular fury and disillusion, there's a witch-flight Presto Misterioso, a buzzing strangeness that cycles between hum and moan and pages that stray very close to the boundaries of silence. The Oboe Quintet is lead by Heinz Holliger who at one time was among the high priests of early 1970s modernism yet who in more recent years has championed orchestral Koechlin with great distinction and joy. This Cerha Quintet has a Bergian sweetness that sings in forthright terms at 2.20 in the first movement. A second movement that speaks of a funeral bier, tragic stabs and a musing that leaves the oboe lost and forlorn. The finale is wild and furious with plenty of rhythmic address before ending in pallor.

The Nine Bagatellen variously weave a skein of hectic activity and play games with bleak silence in a movement dubbed "malinconia". There's buzzing aggression and wooden thwacks in IV as well as a lamenting melody that floats off into silence. After the odd insect dance that is Kaprizios comes a second Malinconia preluding the noises of an "insect parlianent" in Übermutig. After the steady state of Ganz still we finish with Trotzig in which determined figures enter before an almost tonal aspiring melody.

The Claves recording is exemplary and the engaged notes are by the composer with a scene-setter by Daniel Haefliger.

Rob Barnett
Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe



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