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RUDI STEPHAN (1887-1915) Liebeszauber (Magic of Love) for baritone and orchestra (1911) 10:22 Music for Orchestra (1913) 16:38 Music for violin and orchestra (1911) 17:30 Music for seven stringed instruments (1911) 24:27 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) Hans Maile (violin) Deutsches SO, Berlin/Hans Zender Recorded April 1983 at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem  Koch Schwann 3-6709-2 [69:27]



While it is politically correct to identify genius among allied servicemen who died during two world wars, any attention paid to those who fell fighting for the aggressors who lost is considered suspect. George Butterworth was the archetype of the young officer class British composer who was cut down in the Great War slaughter of the trenches. Quite properly his reputation stands secure on the basis of the handful of works he completed.

In a later conflict two German composers who sided with the Nazis included Von Trapp and Hessenburg. Both reputedly wrote fine music which we do not hear because of their objectionable political alignment.

Rudi Stephan died at the age of 28 in the service of the German Imperial Army in the Galician Eastern front campaign during the Great War.

Stephan's music comes from a world of saturated early 20th century romanticism.

The Magic of Love is a narrative monologue for baritone and orchestra. It inhabits a world similar to that of Zemlinsky and Schrecker with a touch of Mahler. His textures are quite luminous and the vocal part is smoothly curvaceous. A dramatic rictus at 3:10 leads into a dreamy recitative. Fischer-Dieskau is in good voice, sounding more youthful than his years. The singer has to switch from singing to speech and back. The lightness of his serenading suggests that Stephan was influenced by the burgeoning operetta world of the time as well as by early Schoenberg.

Music for Orchestra floats spectrally in and out of the miasma of a dream. At 2:48 a more positive almost heroic and demonstrative interlude bursts in. The harp cuts a swathe through the strata of sound. The music is somewhat Straussian but with some of Korngold's epic wash and a grand victorious stride. The vainglory subsides and we return to the mournful reflection of the opening but with the enchanter solo violin to spin the silk of this unusual fantasy. A jolly fugue sets in (11:23) and gallops into a climax of exalted high ideals in a Romantic Hansonian language with the odd hint of Sibelius. This is a most intriguing and pleasurable discovery.

After too short a silence the Music for violin and orchestra starts. This at first muses in a Hollywood haze - part Lark Ascending, part Finzi Introit, part Delius Violin Concerto. This is intensified in a display of fireworks which becomes increasingly warm and nostalgic. A rapid scudding from the violin (reminiscent of Sheherazade) bridges into calm and back at (10:30) to flights of fancy and again to Korngoldian whooping horns. Gallic accents are never far away and strangely enough neither is the Elgar violin concerto! The final 'meltdown' sunset is very Delian.

Finally we move to a surgingly romantic two-movement chamber work. The movements are of unequal length with a sprawling quarter hour Sehr ruhig followed by a ten minute Nachspiel. The work is laid out for string quartet, double bass, harp and piano. John Ireland, Fauré, Howells, Ravel and Schumann are the names which spring to mind as reference points. In addition to the intense sea-swell swing of the opening, Stephan also explores more ghostly and magically still moods. Towards the end of the first movement he attains a swinging confident life-enhancing theme although the movement ends conventionally.

The second and last movement makes the two-movement work enigmatic. The first movement feels complete and of a piece. It is a parallel with one of the single movement constructs featured on the first three tracks. Perhaps we have misunderstood and Stephan simply intended to group together two independent pieces which are simply published together because otherwise they might become lost in the flood of music. The two pieces play quite independently. Together it is like listening in sequence to two tone poems which share the same instrumental specification.

The second movement 'Nachspiel' is a throatily romantic piece with a lifting free-floating dance theme which suggests a dream ballroom. The work seems to rake over and revive intense and painfully beautiful memories. It promises to end in resolute energy but instead fades to a high held violin note and the gently trilling piano.

This music reminds us that German music of this century is not simply preoccupied with the trendy, massive, colossal or impenetrable.

I rather hope that this disc will launch a series of recordings of music by German composers killed in or forgotten because of the Great War or the Second World War.

The present Koch disc is the single most generous (probably only) compendium of Stephan's music, taking in four works. I seem to remember that this collection or at least some of these recordings have been issued previously.

The collection is distinguished by the presence of Fischer-Dieskau. Interesting to see that he was prepared to associate his name and standing with Stephan's music.

Reasonable notes in German, French and English although I would have appreciated more biographical background.

The texts of Liebeszauber are also presented trilingually but unfortunately the different language versions are not side by side making it difficult to follow the singing.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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