Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Violin Sonata in D major Op 16 (1908-9) Violin Sonata in D major WoO.22 (1905) Violin Sonata in E major Op 16 (1931) Albumblatt WoO.70 (1908) Paul Barritt violin Catherine Edwards piano  Guild GMCD7142 [59:47]



Schoeck’s chamber and orchestral music should not be missed by anyone who enjoys late romantic music of the twentieth century. His profound lyricism (he was dubbed ‘the Swiss Schubert’) is no doubt a legacy of his devotion to the human voice as are his eight operas (three of which have been recorded) and his more than 300 songs.

This issue upholds Guild’s high reputation in inspired choice of repertoire, artistic standards and technical excellence. Guild have previously issued very highly recommendable CDs of the two Goossens violin sonatas coupled with Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Ireland (Oliver Lewis/Jeremy Filsell). The sound is immediate and attractive. You feel as if you are seated three stalls back at the front of a small chamber concert hall.

Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards give insightful performances catching the many moods in these sonatas. Both will be known for their previous recordings on Hyperion of the Howells and Ireland sonatas (both worth exploring if you enjoy the Schoeck pieces).

The 1909 sonata (17’) is a flowing work of great charm and in the first of its three movements a great deal more. The first movement is a great lyrical outpouring without the congestion of sound which occasionally is to be found in works of high romanticism. The last two movements are perhaps rather conventional and Beethovenian but they are never less than enjoyable.

The 1931 sonata (21’) is tougher and full of invention. I must not give the impression that Schoeck abandons lyricism. He seems quite unable to do that, thank heavens. However the music seems sparer and more of the sinews show through. The music has a fresh singing quality but is somehow more knowing. No doubt the Great War had swept away some of the happier illusions and innocence.

The two sonatas (1909, 1931) have been recorded previously (Jecklin LP?) by Ulrik Lehman and Charles Dobler though I do not recall seeing these on CD. In any event the sound on the Lehman is rather distanced though the performances are certainly sweet. Lehmann, by the way, had recorded the violin concerto and this was issued (coupled with the horn concerto) on the US Mace label during the 1970s. The recording on that LP was very upfront and oppressive.

Strangely enough, the 1905 sonata (here receiving its world première recording) sounds to my ears more individual than the 1909 work. - certainly than its last two movements. The confidently mercurial flow of the music is remarkable. A fine discovery.

The superb notes are by Chris Walton whose book (currently in German only) on Schoeck is THE authority on this composer. Not so long ago I saw racks of Jecklin Schoeck CDs being sold off cheap in London. I wish I had trusted my judgement then and bought them. The (trilingual) notes have a rewarding density of detail as well as a light hand when it comes to the technicalities of the music. From these emerges the twin stories of Schoeck and the violinist with whom he fell passionately in love, Stefi Geyer (1888-1956). Geyer’s beauty is clear from the photo in the Guild booklet. Her spirit and Schoeck’s love for her are deeply entwined in the Op 16 work and in the final charming 2 minute Albumblatt. Neither Schoeck nor Bartók were to have any amorous success with Geyer. She married first a Swiss lawyer and later an obscure Swiss composer Schulthess. Bartók dedicated his first violin concerto and the first of his Two Portraits to her and his passion for her is reflected in his first string quartet. Schoeck’s violin concerto is dedicated to her and she recorded it during World War 2 in Zurich. All the works on the Guild CD were played by her and the 1905 work, though written before Schoeck knew her, was premiered by her in its revised version in 1954.

The CD is entitled Swiss Romanticism I. I wonder what they have in store for the next volume? I do hope that there will be a German Romanticism series as well. I would like to nominate Joseph Marx’s Fruhlingssonate and the 50’ violin sonata in A major (1913) as candidates for a single CD.

This Schoeck CD is extremely valuable and desirable: music never less than enjoyable, performances sensitive; two world premieres; good sound and fine scholarly notes. Recommended.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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