FRITZ BRUN: Vol. 5 – Piano Concerto, Divertimento, Variations – Adriano cond. – Guild

B00KMHV6MM FRITZ BRUN: Vol. 5 – Piano Concerto in A Major; Divertimento for Piano and Strings; Variations for String Orchestra and Piano – Tomas Nemec, piano/ Bratislava Sym. Orch./ Adriano – Guild GMCD 7409, 74:00 (11/11/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Swiss composer Fritz Brun (1878-1959) created his ambitious Piano Concerto in 1946, but he left the manuscript in partial disrepair, without having completed or orchestrated the reduction of the second piano part. The performers here (July-August 2012) undertook to make the score available to performers, especially since – until pianist Nemec – only Josef Hirt (1899-1985) had mastered the solo part, mainly from memory. Essentially romantic in character, sporting a traditional, tonal syntax and often transparent scoring, the Concerto rather startles in its sweeping, bravura and rhetorical gestures, more in the style of Anton Rubinstein than that of Brun’s national predecessor, Joachim Raff. Brun’s only Swiss competitor on a similar scale would be Frank Martin.

In sonata-form, the first movement of Brun’s concerto, Allegro moderato, pays deliberate homage to the Mozart Concerto No. 23 in the same key, K. 488. The second movement, Andante sostenuto, proffers a lovely nocturne in F Major in which pairs of winds, violas, cellos, and basses harmonize in the style of a melodic chorale or rhapsody. The keyboard part interrupts with cadenza riffs and scalar passages of resonant power. The clarinet (Jozef Elias) has a prominent color in this movement, along with the viola. Attacca, the music moves to the third section, a broad Allegro, a rondo that transforms triplets from the first movement into a horn call of note. Each of the refrains enjoys a slight variation in color, meter, and harmonic syntax; and Brun gives no metronome indications for any of the Italian tempos he designates, so any conductor after Adriano may realize a thoroughly different concept. The solo riffs – lacking an extended cadenza – seem improvisational and contrapuntal, in the lush, “symphonic” manner of Brahms and Reger.

Brun’s 1944 Variations for String Orchestra and Piano on an Original Theme (in D Major) derives from a commission from the tireless Paul Sacher, Swiss conductor and music benefactor. A concertante work, its syntax appeals to a chamber music sensibility, employing the piano in an antique way: proceeding first as an instrumental string aria that will evolve from its chorale into an air with florid embellishments. Each of the eight variants utilizes an ancient form – recitative, toccata, fantasia and prelude – while retaining Brun’s thorough knowledge of post-Second Viennese School harmonic syntax. The syncopated runs demanded of pianist Nemec proceed without a slur, moving by degrees to the crucial Variation VII (Largo, espressivo), an air that courts a sense of transfiguration. The Variation IV, Mosso, more than once recalls the Burleske in d minor by Richard Strauss. Typical of Reger and Brahms, the final Variation VIII culminates in a large fugue. The string parts in this recording had been prepared and rescored by conductor Adriano (b. 1944). A beguiling and often charming work, he was convinced to air the performance with Adrian Aeschbacher and Sacher (Guild GHCD 2351) on “The Music Treasury.” One caveat: the recording has a nasty tendency to crackle harshly between variations – poorly spliced.

The 1954 Divertimento combines the pure virtuoso vehicle with the transparent sonority of a lovely, romantic serenade whose roots lie in Haydn and Mozart. In five sections extended into one continuous movement, ostensibly in E-flat Major, the music proves intricate but gratifying. Brun deliberately brings in foreign keys and circuitous harmonic routes, but they seem consonant with a lyric character we associate with Bartok and Honegger. The penultimate episode – Lento – easily transports us most effectively. The conductor, when ending his generous and informative notes, suggests we listen to the Divertimento “at least twice before our ears can enjoy it with relaxation and even a certain sense of humor.”

—Gary Lemco

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