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Othmar Schoeck: Notturno

Release Date: 11/17/2009 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 001355902   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Othmar Schoeck
Performer:  Diane PascalChristian GerhaherAndreas ReinerHelmut Nicolai,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rosamunde Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck wrote 11 compact discs’ worth of lieder – some 400 songs. We know this from the Jecklin series released in the 1980s and 1990s and sporting great names: Ian Bostridge, Lynne Dawson, Christine Schäfer, Julianne Banse, Wolfram Rieger and Julius Drake. Schoeck was among the last famous exponents of lied alongside Marx and Pfitzner. The voice was his natural channel for expression. There were no symphonies and while there are two string quartets even his instrumental works (concertos for violin, horn, cello) also proclaim his vocal Read more style-set. His espousal of the human voice is also evident in his eight operas. Schoeck’s lieder are predominantly for voice and piano but major examples for voice and orchestra (Elegie; Lebendig Begraben, Befreite Sehnsucht) and - as we can see here - for voice and string quartet also exist. He was another late-romantic who persisted in his lyrical art long after the world had turned its back on the style. Fashion changes and Schoeck;s credit has risen since the mid-1970s. Commercial recordings are not exactly legion but they are certainly not that difficult to run to ground. That said, the illustrious Jecklin series has been deleted and there are no signs of reissue – a pity as it’s one series that cries out for a celebratory boxed set. The ascent of Schoeck’s music from obscurity has been further confirmed, indeed accelerated, by the appearance of a major book in English. Chris Walton’s magnificently detailed and atmospheric biography incorporating commentary on the music has been published. It is so much more than a straight translation of Walton’s Schott published biography (German only, 1995). Well worth getting, it is a most absorbing and intimate read: “Othmar Schoeck – Life and Works”, University of Rochester Press, 2009, ISBN-13 978-1-58046-300-3; pp.446) and counterpoints the music with the life. Chris Walton wrote the satisfying notes for this ECM release and the insert also includes the sung texts with parallel translation into English.
Schoeck’s lieder find their undeniable beauty in melancholy, in haunting nostalgia and in golden reflection. Notturno – a cycle in five parts with two poems in each part (parts separately tracked here) is no exception. There are episodes of exuberance or panic but the centrifugal pull is always towards regret or sorrow. The poems are by Nikolaus Lenau with the final song setting words by Gottfried Keller who wrote the story A Village Romeo and Juliet later to form the basis for Delius’s opera of the same name. The string quartet is a true and significant partner to the baritone voice. The writing is simply masterly and is analytically put across by ECM’s engineering team. Every mood and emotional eddy is reflected, foreshadowed and intensified by the instruments. The weave of the sound is tender yet sinister. Gerhaher ‘lives’ the words magnificently. His voice combines the ringing sonorous strength of an early advocate of the cycle, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with the honeyed softening of Herman Prey or Peter Schreier. The realm created by Schoeck and most vividly put across on this disc is very close to Peter Warlock’s contemporaneous The Curlew. The two works are brothers under the skin. This is one of Schoeck’s finest works and the final hypnotic Keller poem where the soul of the ‘hero’ melts into eternity is utterly superb. The pacing and warmth of this ‘Abschied’ is most adroitly done. The surrender of the soul to the sunset is gently ‘rounded with a sleep’.
Notturno has been recorded several times over the years. Klaus Mertens and the Minguett 4tet on NCA, François Le Roux with works by Samuel Barber Dover Beach and Louis Durey Chansons basques on Gallo. Olaf Bär recorded it in 1997 with Wanderung Im Gebirge, Op. 45 on Denon with the Carmina Quartet. That recording has appeared in harness with the Szymanowski quartets but shorn of the Op. 45 work at bargain price on Dal Segno DSPRCD056. Accord at one time issued some archival tapes which included Notturno and the Eichendorff Lieder. EMI recorded Fischer-Dieskau in the work in 1993 but old-timers might well recall his 1960s CBS LP with the Juilliard Quartet (S72687). It would be good to hear the DF-Ds. The only one I have encountered is the Dal Segno Bär. Bär lacks Gerhaher’s aureate qualities though he has more abrasion, protest and anger in his voice. The Dal Segno does not include texts and translations but where the ECM offers just Notturno Dal Segno include good versions of the two Szymanowskis and the Webern Langsamer Satz. However on this showing if Notturno and musicality is your priority then Gerhaher and ECM have the edge.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

Notturno for Voice and Strings, Op. 47 by Othmar Schoeck
Performer:  Diane Pascal (Violin), Christian Gerhaher (Baritone), Andreas Reiner (Violin),
Helmut Nicolai (Viola), Anja Lechner (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rosamunde Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931-1933; Switzerland 

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