Notes and Editorial Reviews
Quintet in E?. Trio in D
Orsolino Qnt members; Oliver Triendl (pn)
cpo 777 081 (51:16)
Readers will already know from prior reviews, both mine and those of other contributors, that of Brahms’s many contemporaries and wannabes Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843–1900) was the closest of all of them to the elder composer, both professionally and personally. After all, they shared a romantic interest in the same woman, Elisabet von Stockhausen, who came close to marrying Brahms, and who then married
Herzogenberg when Brahms dumped her. The relationship between the two men could not have been a comfortable one, and Herzogenberg didn’t help matters any with his toadying behavior towards Brahms, as if merely breathing the master’s exhaled air would somehow fill his own sails with the winds of inspiration. But not even modest talent, let alone genius, is transferable through osmosis.
Herzogenberg did in fact possess a modicum of talent of his own, most evident when he wasn’t trying so hard to imitate Brahms. And that comes through in these two delightful chamber works. The E?-Major Quintet, written in 1883, is scored for the unusual combination of oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and piano. Few such works exist for this combination of instruments, Mozart’s K 452, Beethoven’s op. 16, and Friedrich Witt’s op. 5 being the best-known—possibly the only known—examples. All share the same key of E? as the most logical compromise and accommodation to the two transposing instruments, the clarinet and the horn. Though Herzogenberg’s quintet would not be as easily mistaken for Brahms as some of his other works, it does exude something of the relaxed, engaging character of Brahms’s much earlier A-Major Serenade. And its last movement, as well as the third movement of the oboe trio, with its running triplets, does call to mind Brahms’s op. 40 Trio for violin, horn, and piano.
The Trio in D for oboe, horn, and piano was written in 1889 during Herzogenberg’s stay in Nice, where he had gone, with Elisabet, to recover from a serious illness. Described by the composer himself as “jolly and so new,” the piece is obviously one of good spirits that reflects the warm Mediterranean clime and Herzogenberg’s improved state of health. In terms of its instrumentation, the trio has even fewer precedents than the quintet, an 1886 work by Carl Reinecke being the only known example, and one that apparently Herzogenberg was unaware of when he wrote his own trio.
The two works on this disc make two things about Herzogenberg abundantly clear. First, he had a life independent of Brahms, and a fairly rich one at that. A Bach scholar of no mean accomplishment, he took up residence in Leipzig where, with Philipp Spitta, he established the Leipzig Bach-Verein, which dedicated itself to the revival of Bach’s cantatas. During his 10-year directorship of the institute, he taught composition to a number of students, one of whom was Ethel Smyth. Relocating to Berlin, he then took up the post of professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik, where he advised Vaughan Williams to study with Max Bruch. Herzogenberg’s catalog of compositions is far larger than current listings of recordings would indicate. It includes major choral works, among which is a requiem, a mass, a number of large-scale oratorios, eight symphonies, a violin concerto, and a vast amount of chamber music.
The second thing we learn is that as a composer, Herzogenberg was not just a conservative—in itself not an indictment, as many composers of this time and milieu, which included Fuchs, Reinecke, and Bruch, among others—were also “old-school” traditionalists—but that he lacked their gift for lyrical melody and the grand Romantic gesture. As one listens to the quintet and trio on this disc, what emerges is a sunny, somewhat carefree disposition, one in which the rustic charm and blithe surfaces are never rippled by any momentous or memorable events. Despite their four-movement classically structured forms and their chamber-music category titles, in musical character these are serenades or divertimento-type works—likeable enough but unremarkable.
Remarkably good, however, are the performances by the Orsolino Quintet, a young German-Austrian ensemble founded in 1996. This is one of those groups from which individual members are drawn on an as-needed basis, depending on the scoring of the work at hand. The services of flutist Walter Auer, for example—one of the Orsolino’s permanent five—are not required in this instance. All players are also members of major orchestras: Jochen Tschabrun is principal clarinet in Frankfurt-am-Main’s RSO; Anne Angerer is principal oboe in Stuttgart’s Southwest RSO; Jan Wessely is deputy principal horn in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; and Marion Reinhard is double-bassoonist in the Berlin Philharmonic. Thus, it comes as no surprise that articulation, intonation, phrasing, and ensemble balance are at the highest professional levels. Joined by pianist Oliver Triendl, and given every advantage by cpo’s excellent recording, these performers make as good a case as any can for a composer who, despite the heroic efforts on his behalf, is not likely to rescind the “DNR” stamped on his medical chart.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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