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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]

If Friedrich Cerha is known for anything, it is for his completion of Alban Berg’s operatic masterpiece, Lulu, in the three-act version that Pierre Boulez famously chose to record for the first time in 1979.

Cerha was born into the Vienna of the Second Viennese School in 1926 and began studying the violin in 1933. Those studies were curtailed when he was drafted into the German army; he deserted twice, and ended the war as a hut-keeper and mountain guide in the high Tyrol. In 1946 he entered the Vienna Academy of Music to study violin, composition and music education; at the same time, he attended the University to study German language and literature, philosophy and musicology. It was here that he first came into contact with the avant-garde of Viennese artistic circles, including the supporters of Schoenberg, which left a lasting impression on him. In 1962, he began work on a performing version of the final act of Lulu, which received its first performance in Paris in 1979.

I remember hearing a comment about the music of Cerha to the effect that he out-Second- Viennese-Schooled the Second Viennese School; this was in reference to the only other disc of his music, apart from Lulu, that I own: the excellent release of the String Quartets Nos 3 and 4 on the Neos Label (NEOS 11217), which also contains the 8 Sätze nach Hölderlin-Fragmenten. The work came about when the composer, who had repeatedly read the German Romantic poet, copied out eight passages with speech patterns that appealed to him, then based these short pieces for string sextet upon them. The result is mesmerising; the blend of the stringed instruments creates a sound that at times is more electronic than strung. The passages from Hölderlin are included in the booklet notes, which, like those for the Neos disc, are by the composer himself.

The Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet is the most conventional of the three works presented here, but only insofar as it has three discernible movements: quick - slow - quick. The first movement has three different “characters” within it before the introduction of a theme from Schoenberg’s Serenade Op. 24. The second movement is different in the way that the strings create a quiet, muted base for the oboe to play above and ends with an oboe melody playing over pizzicato strings. The final movement is the most light-hearted, and again incorporates a section of pizzicato strings with the oboe playing the line above; you can see why the composer said that he is ‘particularly fond’ of this movement, as its almost jovial themes make it the most memorable of the three.

The final work on this disc is the Nine Bagatelles for String Trio, a collection of short, distinctive pieces, which, despite their different natures, sit together well. Again, the sounds created by the violin, viola and cello are at times amazing and, despite their not being prepared in any way, they too at times create sounds, including the chatter of birds and insects, more akin to electronics than bowed strings.

This is an intriguing and welcome disc, which, while it is rooted in the techniques of Schoenberg and his circle, points to a unique, more modern interpretation of his style and reveals Cerha as a composer who has absorbed the past and is composing for the present generation. The recorded sound is excellent, as are Cerha’s booklet notes. Whilst the playing of the Stadler Quartet and friends on Neos is wonderful, I prefer this performance of the Hölderlin-Fragmenten; this is a most interesting disc.

Stuart Sillitoe

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