OTHMAR SCHOECK: Violin Concerto in B-Flat Major “Quasi una Fantasia”; Suite from the opera “Penthesilea” (Arr. by Andreas Delfs) – Bettina Boller, violin/Swiss Youth Symphony Orchestra/Andreas Delfs – Claves CD 50-9201, 60:33 **** [Distr. by Albany]:
Swiss composer Schoeck, who lived until 1957, spent his entire career in Zurich and is best known for his art songs, song cycles and his one-act opera Penthesilea. Although he was not a Nazi sympathizer, he worked with artists in Nazi Germany on the premiere of another of his operas there in 1943, and was roundly attacked by many Swiss as a result. Since he wrote few instrumental-only works the pairing on this CD is of unusual interest. I see it has a 1992 release date so I’m not sure why we received it at this time, but it presents some worthwhile music.
Being of Swiss parentage I have tried to like other Schoeck instrumental works on discs but frankly found them rather boring. Perhaps I was hitting his serialist period which came later. These works are in a late Germanic tonal style. The Violin Concerto was dedicated to a famous and lovely violin prodigy with whom Schoeck was infatuated; and he was evidently not the only one because Bartok and Burkhard also dedicated concerti to her. There are not a great deal of contrasts between the soloist and the orchestra, though there are prominent interchanges between the violin and a solo French horn.
The conductor here arranged some of the music from Schoeck’s opera Penthesilea since the composer never created an orchestral suite from it. The story uses some of Homer’s lliad, but sets up a love story between the Greeks’ leader Achilles and Penthesilea, the leader of the Trojans. The pair both die violently (it’s an opera, remember) and the score supports the drama with passionate music that sometimes is forced to “break out of the chains of tonality.” The booklet writer compares the suite to that for Richard Strauss’ Elektra – another rather violent opera. The 25-minute suite works its way to a fascinating and frenzied conclusion, adjusting any impression I might have had that Schoeck was a bore. By the way, don’t be put off by the Youth Orchestra designation here – these musicians are first rate, no matter their age. And the sonics are good.