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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony in d,
Douglas Bostock, cond; Aargau SO
MUSIQUES SUISSES 6274 (57:38)
There’s more than an even chance that the only name on this disc readers will be familiar with is that of Douglas Bostock, a conductor who has amassed a respectable discography and has had many of his CDs reviewed in these pages. I, on the other hand, admittedly
a collector of works by obscure and forgotten composers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially those whose voices echo Brahms and other late Romantics, have had the pleasure of meeting Hermann Suter (1870–1926) before; and coincidentally, it was on a Sterling recording of this same symphony, which was reviewed by Martin Anderson back in 2003 (27:1).
The Swiss-born Suter was yet another product of Carl Reinecke’s composition mill at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Conservatory, which bred composers like puppies—Grieg, Bruch, Sinding, Svendsen, Janáãe, Albéniz, ?iurlionis, and Felix Weingartner were only a few of them. And while Suter’s output may not be large, what there is of it is of high quality. In his lifetime, he gained widespread recognition for his oratorio,
Le Laudi di San Francesco d’Assisi
, which was premiered in Vienna by Furtwängler and then performed some seven dozen times in cities throughout Europe.
Most of Suter’s works involve vocal forces, but among his orchestral and chamber works, other than this symphony, are a Violin Concerto, three string quartets, and a String Sextet. In fact, the same above-cited review by Anderson contained a second headnote for a Musique Suisses release of the sextet. Unfortunately, that CD (6201), along with a recording of Suter’s violin concerto (6169) also mentioned by Anderson, has apparently disappeared from the domestic listings but can probably still be acquired from the company’s official website, musiques-suisses.ch/f/index.php. The only two current Suter entries I find at ArkivMusic are the Sterling disc of the symphony reviewed by Anderson and this new release of it on Musique Suisses led by Bostock.
Anderson sums up the symphony perfectly, calling it “deeply dramatic and breathing something of the large-scale symphonic thought of Bruckner, touched with Wagnerian coloring, and sharing the tendency of Franck’s Symphony.” In other words, if you have a hankering for big, sweeping romantic scores—never mind that this one was written in 1914—and you’ve tired of the old warhorses, Suter’s D-Minor Symphony is guaranteed to fill the bill. In his review of the Sterling version, by Adriano leading the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Anderson laments that the recording is not the last word on the Suter Symphony. He was right. I have the Sterling CD and am able to compare it to the new Musiques Suisses release, and I can say with confidence that in every respect Bostock’s reading and recording are superior.
Timing-wise, the difference between the two performances—just 13 seconds—in this vast 44-minute score is negligible. But Bostock’s direction captures with greater conviction the amazing drive of the opening movement and the burlesque-like scherzo, a
, which foreshadows some of the bitterly ironic scherzo movements in Shostakovich’s symphonies and string quartets. Anderson was right to cite Bruckner as an influence; it’s especially evident in the pounding juggernaut of this
movement, but the intermittent “Revelge”-like mordant fanfares are all too familiar from works by Mahler. In the end, Suter’s symphony is a magnificent melting pot of influences, not far removed from him in time, along with suggestions of musical works yet to come.
Interestingly, the Sterling CD couples the Suter with an orchestral work by another unknown (Hans Jemoli) at least as obscure as Werner Wehrli (1892–1944), whose
for orchestra shares space with Suter’s symphony on the present disc. Unavoidably, for me at least, the title of the piece suggests chilblains or frostbite, but according to the album’s program note, it means “Annual Town Fair.” Those notes tell us that Wehrli, who was born in Aarau, Switzerland, home of the Aargau orchestra on this disc, received his musical education at the Zurich Conservatory and subsequently at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where one of his classmates was Hindemith. Following that, he spent another year or so studying privately with, guess who? Hermann Suter. Thus the logic, I suppose, of including Wehrli’s
on the present CD.
Composed in 1917, the 13-minute piece is a festive overture cum tone poem, the opening fanfares of which bear a rather striking resemblance to Dvo?ák’s
. From what I understand reading Walter Labhart’s informative notes,
is a fairly early work in the composer’s catalog and is not particularly characteristic of his output as a whole. Apparently, Wehrli progressed from late-Romanticism—of which
is an example— to Impressionism and on to the “New Music,” which included a significant contribution to the New Objectivity formulated by Hindemith. Wehrli’s works include a tragic opera,
(The Bequest), two string quartets,
A Secular Requiem
, songs, pieces for piano and organ, and sketches for an unfinished symphony and sinfonietta. No prior entries for Wehrli will be found in the
Archive, and I find no recordings of any of his other works. In fact, the booklet’s title page indicates that the source for
is an unpublished manuscript.
The recording was made in September 2012 as part of the festivities celebrating the Aargau Symphony Orchestra’s jubilee season. The 60-member ensemble is not exactly on the international concert circuit and, I would imagine, is not widely known outside of Switzerland, but on the evidence of this CD, it’s a very fine orchestra which one hopes to hear more from on record in the future. Enthusiastically recommended to all fans of colorful and characterful Romantic orchestral scores.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Symphony in D minor, Op. 17 by Hermann Suter
Aargau Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1913; Basel, Switzerland
Chilbizite by Werner Wehrli
Aargau Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Well played Suter April 23, 2013
By roger horn (Clarion, PA) See All My Reviews
"I consider Hermann Suter's Laudi of Frances of Assisi a great piece of music (and I use the term "great" sparingly). And so I was most interested in hearing his symphony. I have had an inferior recording of it for some years, but didn't think the performance good enough to evaluate the music. This performance is and so I listened to it a number of times and let the impression settle, which I think it has now. But it is not all that good an impression - one can tell he was quite serious, but the music is more to be respected than loved for me. As for the other piece, Werner Wehri's Chilbizite, I cannot say it made any impression on me at all and I don't think I'll seek anything else by him."