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Fritz BRUN (1878-1959)
Complete Orchestral Works
Bernadett Fodor (mezzo-soprano); Tomás Nemec (piano); Claudius Herrmann (cello); Peter Lloyd (organ)
Bratislava Symphony Sextet
Bratislava Symphony Choir
Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Bratislava Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
rec. 2003-2015, Bratislava & Moscow
Originally released on the Guild and Sterling labels
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95784 [11 CDs: 716:50]

My introduction to the music of Swiss composer Fritz Brun was not an auspicious one; it came in the form of historical performances of the 8th Symphony and the Variations for String Orchestra and Piano on an Original Theme, originally on the Guild label (GHCD2351) but now included in this box (disc 11). Try as I might, and despite the remarkably good sound for its age, I do not like historical recordings; I prefer to hear the music rather than the limitations of the recording; hence, this disc soon went to the charity shop. However, it is good to hear Brun’s own thoughts on the 8th Symphony and there was still enough there to spark my interest in the composer, so much so, that when I wanted a recording of his compatriot Othmar Schoeck’s String Quartet No. 2, I bought the recording that also contained Brun’s No. 3 (MGB CD 6238).

He began his survey of ten symphonies in a big, bold fashion as can be heard on the first disc of this wonderful set, which presents the Symphony No. 1 of 1901 along with the Ouvertüre zu einer Jubiläumsfeier, which was composed forty-nine years later. The symphony seems to be his first orchestral work and was composed while Brun was still a student at the conservatory at Cologne. It certainly makes a statement of intent, having an air of Brahms about it and more than a hint of Dvořák. This is all the more remarkable when one takes into account the work’s maturity and stylistic qualities; he was only 23 when he completed it. With four movements and just over 35 minutes long, it opens with a sunny Allegro moderato; the second movement, Adagio non troppo, is bright and spacious, despite its slower pace. The third movement, Allegro energico, begins brightly enough but as the it progresses moves into a more foreboding mood; this is contrasted by the fourth movement which opens with music that firmly returns us to the brighter and more energetic mood, and at times reminds me of Elgar. The Overture begins quite solemnly for a celebration piece, but the mood changes as it becomes brighter, more expansive and, at times, cinematic in nature.

Dating from ten years later, Symphony No. 2 is once again Brahmsian, beginning calmly before a short-lived interlude of more animated music enters; then the sweeping opening theme wins through. The second movement is more passionate and the slow, rolling third movement is Romantic in the extreme; its theme which would be ideal as the love theme for a movie. The final, dance-like movement is reminiscent of an earlier Romantic period and reminds me of a slightly updated Landler, and its bold, tutti sections ramp up the energy towards the movement’s conclusion. The Symphonischer Prolog für grosses Orchester was composed in 1944 and begins in total contrast to the conclusion of the symphony; gone is the gaiety, as here we have a pensive introduction with some nice woodwind flourishes before the entry of the brass which seems brash and at odds with the string sound. It lasts some twenty minutes and although it never drags, it is not until towards the end that the promise of this piece is fulfilled with a more rousing conclusion to the work.

Disc three offers what would prove to be the composer’s longest symphony, the Third, in D minor, it was also something of a departure for Brun, in that unlike most of his symphonies, it was cast in only three movements, like the Symphony No. 4. It was composed in 1919 and “reflects impressions of Alpine wanderings.” Once again, we hear Brahms’ influence, but perhaps also that of Bruckner, in the idea of getting closer to God, something many climbers experience. The first movement alone lasts over twenty-one minutes and presents a panoramic sweep of orchestral colour. The second movement differs from every other symphonic movement by the composer in that it is in the form of a theme and variations. The theme is taken from the Epiphany carol We Are The Three Kings, which is treated with reverence, whilst the following set of six variations, each of which is given its own track number, is varied and offers a glowing development of the original theme, with some, like the fifth, being quite tender and passionate. The final movement could be said to have grown out of the first, especially in the lyrical introduction, as there is a feeling of wide-open Alpine spaces, whilst the flurries from the woodwind could be seen as celebrations of nature; this leads to some strong writing which sounds less disjointed than the first movement.

The Fourth Symphony is the only other one to move away from the four-movement model. It begins with slow, subdued strings over the horn, which gets a starring role; this is followed with a more folk- dance-like section before the return of the horn. The work reminds me here of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, its bucolic tendencies and fluttering woodwind almost painting a landscape in music. The second movement begins rousingly with flurries of brass and timpani, which contrast with the quieter, more relaxed central section. The final movement again nods towards Bruckner, but Mahler, too, seems to loom on the horizon; the gritty opening belies its Adagio marking; the movement develops through shifting tempo markings in a varied and satisfying progression until it reaches its rousing conclusion. The symphony is coupled with the Rhapsody, Brun’s final, and least inspired works. It opens well enough on the flute, but fails to live up to its promise, with nothing really sticking in the mind of the listener.

The fifth disc offers the listener two, contrasting symphonies, the Symphony No. 5 from 1929 and the final Tenth of 1953. The former is a bit on the gloomy side and needs repeated listening’s to get to its heart, the double basses and the lower woodwinds serving only to add to the sombre feeling of the opening Chaconne. The brief second movement, Gehetz, phanttastisch, offers a scherzo-like refrain from the gloom, but even then, the music is relentless in its creepiness, its almost cinematic suspense and tension keeping the listener uneasy. The third movement, Langsam, is in reality Brun’s funeral elegy for fellow Swiss composer Herman Suiter who had died in 1926. The lament is heartfelt, but Brun does not refrain from portraying the pain and suffering his friend endured in his final illness. The final movement, despite its instruction Rasch und wütend (fast and furious), retains an air of despondency about it as it rushes towards the symphony’s conclusion. In contrast, the Tenth Symphony is brighter and more optimistic in character. It was composed when Brun was 75 and brings to mind the Brahmsian nature of the earlier symphonies, although the influences of Reger, Schumann and the text of Lutheran pastor and poet, Eduard Friedrich Mörike’s “Im Frühling” (In Springtime) are also present. The joyous opening movement recreates a mood of spring and its storms, while the second movement is at times solemn, but overall the feeling of joy and youth prevails. The third movement is the Adagio and contains some really fine passage work, especially in the way that Brun develops the yearning of the movement’s main theme. The cheerful, buoyant final movement rounds off the symphony well.

As with the previous disc, the two symphonies presented on CD 6 are different both in character and emotional intensity, the Sixth Symphony offering grittier, more rugged music, while the Seventh returns to the brighter sunnier side of Brun’s nature. The pensive opening of the C Major symphony belies the spirit of defiance which will appear, especially in the second movement, and be repeated in the recapitulation in the final movement with its brass flourish at the end. This strong, powerful symphony takes its lead from Brahms, but perhaps Brahms seen through the lens of Max Reger’ Well- developed thematic material and colourful orchestration are apparent throughout, although this is best appreciated after repeated listening. The Seventh Symphony, dating from three years later, is instantly appealing with its delightfully melodic and lyrical material and the use of the solo violin in the opening makes me immediately want to re-listen to it. There is an occasional sense of longing in this work; again, it makes good use of orchestral colour, leading to cinematic passages and a lushness akin to that of his compatriot Othmar Schoeck, a composer he revered; however, the use of brass fanfares in the second movement also reminds me of Korngold. The slow third movement is quite beautiful. The frenetic final Allegro begins moderately and gradually builds in intensity and tempo. This is a wonderful work and would prove to be the ideal starting point for anyone coming to this composer anew.

The seventh disc offers an opportunity to hear the Eighth Symphony in a recording with arguably better sound that the composer’s own recording included on disc 11. The improved sound quality helps bring the bright, sunny qualities of this symphony to the fore, opening with an engaging Allegro in which the horn has a prominent role. The second movement, Andante, takes its lead from the Bernese folk song Schönster Abestärn, building on the melody with some nice passage work for the clarinet. The following Notturno has some wonderfully lyrical passages again in the woodwind and especially for the bass clarinet, while in the final Allegro the sun comes out from behind the clouds again in a Brahmsian conclusion. I have had the original incarnation of this disc on my watch list for quite a while, mainly for the inclusion of the three songs by Othmar Schoeck, a composer who, like Brun, I greatly admire. I have many, but sadly not all of the Jecklin Lieder Edition of the Schoeck songs, so I could find the texts easily enough, but it would have been nice to have had them included in the booklet. They can, however, be accessed via the online booklet on the Brilliant Classics website. The songs are wonderful; |Schoeck’s affinity for the human voice shining through and Brun’s sympathetic orchestration, dating from 1916, only two years after their original publication, adding colour and emotion.

The eighth disc offers the listener the five-movement Symphony No. 9 along with the symphonic poem Aus dem Buch Hiob (From the Book of Job). The first movement, marked Vorspiel, can indeed be seen as a prelude to the work, beginning brightly with a swagger in the strings, which are soon joined by the woodwinds, and points us firmly towards the sunnier side of Brun’s disposition. This is followed by the Serenade, which again is light and airy, although it has a feeling of Mahler in the way the instruments are melded together, the woodwind chirping over the pizzicato strings before the music becomes more expansive. The slow movement Liebesrauf soon returns us to the world of the composer’s beloved Brahms; this reminds me of the treatment of the slow movement of his Second Symphony, with its arching strings and clever use of the winds and percussion sections. This is followed by the sunny fourth movement in which differing sections seem at times to clash with each other in a sort of quarrel, but despite Schoeck’s influence over this movement, it is Brun’s love of Brahms that wins through. The final movement is at 15 ½ minutes nearly double the length of the next longest and, unusually for the finale of a Romantic symphony, concludes with a lyrical slow movement almost like a tone poem, its central section being more profound and animated with some glorious passages. The tone poem Aus dem Buch Hiob is one of the earliest orchestral compositions included on this set, with only the Symphony No. 1 predating it, clearly showing that Brun emerged as a fully-fledged orchestral composer. Clearly under the spell of Brahms, the piece uses an extensive colour pallet with the harp given a prominent role at times, while it seems that the idea of fate comes through in the deep rumblings of the brass section.

Disc nine includes the three piano concertante works composed between 1944 and 1954, the earliest of these being the Variations on an Original Theme, a historical recording of which is also included on disc 11, conducted by Paul Sacher who had commissioned the work. It opens with a pleasing enough theme on the strings, but I couldn’t help but wish that the work was for full orchestra and not piano and strings as the sound was a little thin in places with the piano dominating. I also found that while the individual variations were nice, I craved for greater depth and development, again wishing for larger forces. In comparison, the Piano Concerto, composed two years later, sounds much fuller, with the orchestral sound adding the colour I wished for in the Theme and Variations. It opens with a nice melody on the piano which the orchestra then takes up and develops. The slow second movement Andante sostenuto opens with a plaintive melody on the strings, the piano entering after this has run its course; at this point, I found myself momentarily thinking of Rachmaninov. This is followed by some nice interplay between the piano and the strings and there is a lovely melody for the solo clarinet. The second movement is interrupted with a jolt as it runs int the final movement Allegro without a break, with the sunny side of Brun’s character again to the fore. The final work on this disc is the thirteen-minute Divertimento for Piano and Strings. The sunnier outlook runs into the opening which seems to have a greater depth to the string writing than the earlier work leading to, for me, its being a more successful work, bringing this disc to a happy and enjoyable conclusion. Throughout the three works featured on this disc, the pianist Tomás Nemec, is on top form.

Disc ten opens with the Cello Concerto which dates from the year after the Piano Concerto. After the orchestral opening, it is nearly three minutes before the cello enters, offering a melodic and at times song like collaboration between the soloist, Claudius Herrmann and the orchestra, especially in the slow, central Andante moderato con sentimento, where, as it suggests, sentimentality is certainly worn on the sleeve, especially that of the soloist. In the final Allegro, the soloist and orchestra rush headlong to the work’s conclusion. Claudius Herrmann offers a detailed, committed account and the Bratislava Symphony and Adriano prove equally committed partners. The Cello Concerto is followed by two works for chorus and orchestra which offer insight into Brun’s affinity for the human voice, something which is further heightened by the five songs which conclude this disc. The two choral works Verheissung from 1915 and Grenzen der Menschheit from 1932, both set texts by Goethe, the first of which, Promise, for mixed choir, orchestra and organ, is the most dramatic, often reminding me more of a symphonic poem with voices. This recording project seems to have been a real labour of love for the conductor Adriano, its culmination being the Fünf Lieder für eine Altstimme which Brun composed for alto and piano in 1920 and here performed in an arrangement by Adriano for alto and string sextet from 2014. The beautiful and sincere arrangements of songs demonstrate Adriano’s admiration for the composer and his music and make me long to hear more of the composer’s songs.

These recordings are at least good, with some very good indeed; Adriano marshals his forces well to produce some wonderful performances. The sound on occasion is a bit thin; I would just have liked a bit more depth to the recording at times, which leads to my having minor reservations about the box set, but it is still serviceable, with the music coming through well. Adriano handles the soloists well, giving them space to be heard, whilst the orchestral playing of both the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra is very good; they give committed performances of works which must have been alien to them, showing that Adriano has taken time to school all the musicians in the music of his compatriot, something which has certainly paid off here. His involvement does not stop there; if you take time to follow the link on the Brilliant Classics website to the additional notes, you will find a 164 page A4 document in which Adriano provides a detailed “brief biography” as well as updated notes he wrote for each of the original releases. It also contains artist biographies, sung texts and translations and many colour photographs of the recording sessions - a real labour of love indeed! The accompanying booklet to the set includes a six-page article by Peter Palmer, originally published in Tempo Quarterly Review, which also gives details of the composer and his music.

This wonderful set is self-recommending and a real labour of love, reflecting Adriano’s commitment to perform, record and bring to a wider listening public the music of his compatriot and Switzerland’s leading symphonist Fritz Brun, providing on disc the majority of his music, including all the orchestral works.

Stuart Sillitoe

CD 1 [47:15]
Symphony No. 1 in B Minor (1901) [35:19]
Ouvertüre zu einer Jubiläumsfeier (1950) [11:49]
CD 2 [58:04]
Symphony No. 2 in B-Flat Major (1911) [37:33]
Symphonic Prologue (1944) [20:38]
CD 3 [60:55]
Symphony No. 3 in D Minor (1919) [60:55]
CD 4 [67:09]
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor (1925) [57:01]
Rhapsodie for Orchestra (1957) [10:08]
CD 5 [68:30]
Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat Major (1929) [38:03]
Symphony No. 10 in B-Flat Major (1953) [30:27]
CD 6 [74:32]
Symphony No. 6 in C Major (1933) [33:51]
Symphony No. 7 D Major (1937) [40:41]
CD 7 [72:46]
Symphony No. 8 in A Major (1942) [53:54]
Drei Schoeck Lieder (1914 orch. Brun 1916): I. Auf meines Kindes Tod; II. Die drei Zigeuner; III. Jugendgedenken [11:36]
CD 8 [61:17]
Symphony No. 9 in F Major (1953) [43:22]
Aus dem Buch Hiob – tone poem (1906) [19:06]
CD 9 [72:46]
Piano Concerto in A Major (1946) [38:04]
Variations for String Orchestra and piano (1944) [21:13]
Divertimento for Piano and strings (1954) [13:17]
CD 10 [54:23]
Cello Concerto in D Minor (1947) [28:04]
Verheissung (1915) [9:26]
Grenzen der Menschheit (1932) [6:10]
Lieder für eine Altstimme & Klavier (1913-16): I. Lebensgenuss; II. Die Entschlafenen 85 Lieder für eine Altstimme & Klavier: III. Abendständchen; IV. Es wehet kühl und leise; V. Der Wunsch [10:26]
CD 11 [77:23]
Historical recordings (1946)
Symphony No. 8 in A Major (1942) [55:01].
Studio-Orchester Beromünster/Brun. rec. 1946
Variations for String Orchestra and Piano on an original Theme (1944) [23:02]
Adrian Aeschbacher (piano); Collegium Musicum Zürich/Paul Sacher (1906–1999)

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