Moeschinger quartets NXMS7006
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Albert Moeschinger (1897-1985)
String Quartet No 3 in D minor, Op 8 (1923)
String Quartet No 5, Op 48 ‘Colloqui’ (1940; rev. version 1954)
Trauermusik für Hanny Bürgi (c. 1938)
Rasumowsky Quartet
rec. 2021, Radio Studio Zürich, Switzerland
First Recordings

Albert Moeschinger hailed from Basel, Switzerland. It was only when he reached the age of twenty that he was allowed to take up musical studies formally at the Bern Conservatory; his father insisted on him completing a banking apprenticeship first. He then progressed to the Leipzig Conservatory and later to Munich, where he studied composition with Walter Courvoisier. He didn’t complete his studies due to financial constraints, however. Between 1937 and 1943 he held a teaching post at Bern Conservatory. A keen mountaineer, a skiing accident forced him to settle in the village of Saas Fee in the Swiss canton Valais. Here he devoted himself to composing, receiving support from conductor and benefactor Paul Sacher, who regularly commissioned orchestral works from him. In 1956 Moeschinger relocated to Ascona in Ticino. He was initially influenced by the music of Max Reger and Richard Strauss, but later veered towards atonality, inspired by Thomas Mann’s novel ‘Doctor Faustus’. The journey towards twelve-tone music and serialism began in 1947. His compositions embrace many genres, with the exception of opera.

Moeschinger was in his mid-twenties and studying composition with Walter Courvoisier in Munich when he completed his String Quartet No 3. The work is cast in the classic four-movement structure. The music is bathed in late romantic gestures and laced with chromaticism. The upward gliding motif definitely grabs you from the start and permeates the entire movement, conferring an element of mystery on proceedings. It’s followed by an inviting Andante which tugs at the heart strings with its tortuous harmonies. Very occasionally a little waltz tune intrudes to provide an element of balm. A nonchalant Menuetto precedes a meandering Rondo-Finale, notable for its canonic workings. I found this final movement the least interesting of the four.

Fast forward seventeen years and we have the String Quartet No 5, Op 48, ‘Colloqui’ (Conversations), dedicated to Fritz Hirt, first violin of the Basel String Quartet, who premiered the work, and concertmaster of the Basel Symphony Orchestra. What we have here is the revision the composer made in 1954. The work is unusual in that it’s structured in six short movements, described in the booklet as “musical settings of various characters”. These are titled:

Colloquio passionale
la bonomia
divergenza d'opinioni
corpo ed anima
l'imbroglio rustico

It opens in declamatory fashion, before making tentative steps. The second movement takes a wistful glance back to that upward motif of the first movement of the Third Quartet. There’s plentiful good humour in la bonomia, with conflict and division underscoring movement four. Moeschinger infuses the final movement with gusto and brio.

The undated funeral music for Johanna “Hanny” Bürgi, which she commissioned, dates from around 1938, the year of her death. Mrs “Hanny” Bürgi gave the composer financial support and encouragement during his time in Bern. In five movements, it offers brief snapshots providing “loving portraits of an idiosyncratic personality”. To me, the work sounds more compositionally advanced than the two quartets. The movements convey an underlying melancholia and elegiac quality fully in keeping with the Trauermusik designation.

Listening to these intriguing and imaginative scores one realizes why Moeschinger, together with Othmar Schoeck, Arthur Honegger and Frank Martin, was considered one of the most gifted Swiss composers of the 20th century. The Rasumowsky Quartet’s performances do full justice to this alluring chamber music. They play with true warmth and commitment. They’ve been beautifully recorded. These works are certainly worthy of your regard and provide much food for thought.

Stephen Greenbank

Published: October 4, 2022