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Hermann SUTER (1870-1926)
Symphony in D minor (1914) [44:27]
Hans JELMOLI (1877-1936)
Three Pieces for Orchestra from the lyrical comedy ‘His Legacy’ [16:48]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
rec. 2002/3, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow
STERLING CDS1052-2 [61:15]

Swiss musicologist, composer and conductor Adriano has devoted his recording career to setting down recordings of music by little known composers, sometimes with an emphasis on those with a strong Swiss background. This is the case here, where we have a symphony by the short-lived Herman Suter, and Hans Jelmoli, who was not much older than Suter when he died.

The only other piece by Suter that I have come across is his oratorio Le Laudi di San Francesco d'Assisi in a recording on the Swiss MGB label. This is an impressive work that does not appear to have been reviewed.

Little known outside Switzerland, Suter was born near Aarau in April 1870. His father was a passionate music lover, organist and teacher, and the son soon began to demonstrate musical gifts. When his musical, education was complete by 1902, he settled in Basel and played a prominent part in the country’s musical life, becoming conductor of the Basel orchestra and took leadership of the city’s choral society.

The symphony is a dramatic work with each movement possessing memorable material which makes a decided aural impact on first hearing. The impressively detailed booklet notes, by Adriano himself, suggest that each movement might be regarded as a musical portrait of different aspects of Switzerland, although the composer left no corresponding written descriptions. For example, the first movement opens Nebuloso, quietly but ominously, and soon becomes tempestuous, and it is easy to guess that it represents the calm before a storm, followed by the storm itself. The movement ends Marziale e fiero and Suter obliges. Stylistically, he has been taking a lead from Richard Strauss, and maybe Bruckner, but whilst the work may not be all that original, it is colourful and at times, exciting. The second movement Capriccio militaresco, alla marcia is probably my favourite, being an unusual rather bombastic march, interestingly often scored for the lower reaches of the orchestra. Adriano suggests that Suter is here sending up the “Swiss petty bourgeois mentality of that time, its military cult, bureaucracy, pedantry and quarrelsomeness, leading to a paroxysm”. Being a native Swiss himself, he suggests that its main theme is a rhythmically spoken epigram from the canton of Bern, transformed into music.

The slow movement, a prayer-like adagio molto, is a lovely meditation that provides a period of respite after the capriccio, and the rondo finale makes use of several folk melodies, detailed in the notes. It ends with brassy (over?) emphasis from trumpets, horns and trombones, which is quite exciting. I gain the impression that the movements are separate symphonic poems, rather than an organic, symphonic whole, but having said that, I have enjoyed listening to it very much indeed, and would very much like to hear a recording of his 1921 Violin Concerto. Mention must be made of the committed playing of the Moscow Orchestra in this often propulsive performance, in which Adriano pulls out the stops to make the case for the symphony. The recording is a good one too, my criticisms being an excessively reverberant sounding drum that often provides an aural background ‘wash’ to the sound picture. Also, there are times when the brass writing sounds over-aggressive. However, these are minor cavils, and have not significantly reduced my appreciation of the work.

It is followed by three short pieces by Hans Jelmoli, a name completely unfamiliar to me. He was born in 1877, into the family of Zürich’s most famous department store. He worked as a composer, music critic and music examiner. The music recorded here is as great a contrast to the Suter as could be imagined, being delicately orchestrated and undemandingly tuneful, easy to listen to, and brings a very interesting CD to a pleasing conclusion.

As mentioned above, the booklet notes, in German and English are by Adriano, and are immensely detailed biographically and musically. The sections devoted to Jelmoli have been created as a result of his original research, no published biographical information being available.

Jim Westhead
Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Ian Lace

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