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Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Suite for string orchestra, Op. 59 (1945) [26:25]
Concerto for cello and strings, Op. 61 (1947) [31:02]
Sommernacht, Pastoral Intermezzo for string orchestra, Op. 58 (1945) [14:15]
Christoph Croisé (cello)
Chamber Orchestra I TEMPI/Gevorg Gharabekyan
rec. Radiostudio Brunnenhof, Zurich, 2017
GENUIN GEN18497 [71:47]

Chamber orchestra I TEMPI releases its second recording on the Genuin label—an album of works by Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck titled Summer Night. It is rare to encounter music by the Swiss composer Schoeck in the concert hall. Composing essentially in a late-Romantic style, Schoeck in his lifetime was best known for writing a very substantial quantity of Lieder, some three hundred of them, plus choral music and stage works, including the operas Penthesilea and Massimila Doni.

Owing to money problems Schoeck was increasingly dependent on the generosity of Werner Reinhart, an industrialist and philanthropist. Reinhart bought Schoeck the property the composer was living in and in return the composer dedicated the Suite for String Orchestra to his benefactor. In 1946 Hermann Scherchen conducted the suite’s première with the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur. The opening movement moves with a steely determination and the Pastorale tranquillo feels like a spring afternoon in one of the many verdant lakeside valleys near Lake Lucerne close to Brunnen where the work was composed. The affable third movement, a circus-like march, reminds me of Stravinsky, the following Poco adagio just has to be a love letter in music and the tarantella Presto-Finale feels willful and exuberant.

In the early 1930s Schoeck embarked on a cello concerto but then abandoned it. Some years later in 1947 he composed a four movement Concerto for Cello and Strings that Pierre Fournier premièred at Zurich. At just under fourteen minutes here, the opening movement rather outstays its welcome. It is welcoming and agreeable on the surface but there is an undertow of uncertainty with a slight reserve. Predominantly intimate, reflective and somewhat moody, the lyrical slow movement drags due to its lack of memorable material while the very short third movement Scherzo - Presto is restless and energetic, providing a welcome contrast of tempo. The highlight is the thickly textured Finale which varies considerably in tempi and weight. It never seems to settle on one particular emotion for too long; there is extremely passionate writing contrasted with a sense of mystery. Christoph Croisé plays with considerable ardency and style, very much at one with the diverse character of the writing.

In 1945 just after the end of the War, Schoeck, although recovering from a heart attack, wrote Sommernacht (Summer Night), a Pastoral Intermezzo for String Orchestra—his first orchestral work for well over a decade. The work originated from a Bernische Musikgesellschaft commission for the Berner Symphonieorchester, who premièred the score under Luc Balmer in 1945. A major stimulus for the single-movement score was Gottfried Keller’s poem Sommernacht, a profoundly rustic Alpine verse which Schoeck modified and used as a programme note. Captivating and entirely undemanding, overflowing with a strong pastoral character in a summer nocturnal setting, the work is most probably a response to the horrific consequences of war.

These are predominantly expressive works, often high on passion and yearning, with occasional forays into a dark and tortured world. Basel-based chamber orchestra I TEMPI under Gevorg Gharabekyan plays with exuberance and a refreshing spontaneity. The delightful sound of the strings is matched by the player’s level of commitment. Exemplary results from the engineering team at Radiostudio Brunnenhof, Zurich give clarity and satisfying balance, with a rich warm sound. An essay The Power of Song by Chris Walton provides excellent information about Schoeck and the three works, and there is an English translation of the text of Keller’s poem Summer Night.
Lovers of late-Romantic music looking for something of high quality but out of the standard repertory should not hesitate with this Schoeck album Summer Night.

Michael Cookson