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Waldemar von BAUSZNERN (1866-1931)
Quintet for Piano, Violin, Clarinet, Horn and Cello in F [36:13]
Acht Kammergesänge [23:05]
String Trio [18:58]
Maria Bentsson (soprano), Berolina Ensemble
rec. Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany, 2017
MDG 94820716 SACD [78:16]

I had put this disc in the player and listened without looking at the booklet notes. I was not that impressed: the music seemed a bit turgid and uninteresting, especially the Quintet. After leaving it for it a while, a few more listens helped me get to grips with this music.

Although von Bausznern, the son of a finance officer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was born in Berlin, he grew up in modern-day Rumania and Hungry. He later studied music at the Berliner Musikhochschule as a student of Friedrich Kiel and most importantly Woldemar Bargiel. The latter had a significant influence on the development of the young composer, and even acted as a kind of mentor after his graduation. The booklet notes tell us that von Bausznern is difficult to categorise musically because he developed in his own way, one that took a sort of middle ground between the followers of Brahms and those of the New German composers such as Liszt and Wagner.

The Quintet from 1898, not published for eight years, gives an air of dialogue between the instruments with its unusual combination of strings and winds. I first found it dull and conservative in its outlook. Every time I listen again, I find something more of interest. It remains my least favourite work on this disc, but it is growing on me. It is composed in four contrasting movements; von Bausznern almost treats the instruments as independent, leading to unusual harmonic developments. The second movement Scherzo, with its dark humour a forerunner of what was to follow in the twentieth century, contains the most interesting music in the whole work.

The Kammergesänge of 1906, a set of eight songs for soprano, string quartet, flute and clarinet, are interesting in the way the composer uses folk music and music from earlier generations to support the vocal line. Sometimes he uses the music to carry the tune of the vocal line. In other songs the melody of the vocal line is at odds with that of the ensemble. On other occasions, such as in the case of Hier au soir, j’ai tant dansé, it is as if he uses the vocal line to answer questions posed by the instrumentalists. This is in reality a sextet interspersed with lines from the soprano. The sixth song, Der Unbestand ist ihr Verwandt, is reminiscent of Canteloube in the way that the voice swoops up into the higher register. Although von Bausznern uses these older tunes, he uses them in a way that makes them sound less conventional than the Quintet.

The String Trio of 1890, despite being the earliest work on the disc, is in some ways the most forward looking. Although a result of Brahms’s legacy, its strong emphasis on thematic and harmonic development, especially in the third and final movement, shows von Bausznern’s single-minded approach to his music and the development of his middle way. It is unconventional in that it is in three movements without a specific slow movement. Instead it is the final movement which opens with a tender, yet powerful Adagio in G minor, out of which grows a dancelike Allegro that races to the conclusion of the movement and the work whilst changing key to E minor that develops into E Major. This is my favourite work on this disc.

The Berolina Ensemble are in excellent form, especially when one considers that this music can hardly be a standard part of their repertoire, or anyone else’s for that matter. Even when joined by the soprano, Maria Bentsson, there is a great sense of ensemble and passion for this music. The recorded sound is excellent with the very natural acoustic bringing out the best from the performers and the music. The booklet notes are informative, more so about the composer than the music, but there is still just enough information about the works. This interesting disc proves to spark my interest in the composer, enough for me to consider buying Volume 1.

Stuart Sillitoe


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