Conductor Jose Serebrier continues to honor his mentor Leopold Stokowski by championing unfamiliar music of quality, here (recorded 26-28 February 2007) the works of German composer Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904-1985), a neo-Romantic working in a tonal, idiosyncratic style, who offers us a series of moving, colorist, emotionally wrought works of singular power. In terms of his reliance of classical and traditional harmony, Schwarz-Schilling belongs to the same school of thought as Egk, Blacher, and Einem, all of whom found an advocate in Ferenc Fricsay.
In 1949, Schwarz-Schilling rearranged his F Minor String Quartet of 1932 for string orchestra. The work in its new form premiered in Berlin under Sergiu Celibidache. While the dark, chromatic hue and structural procedures owe debts to Bach, the Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C minor,. K. 546 looms nigh. The fugue subject takes its impetus as an inversion of the Introduction motif, and the fugue often juxtaposes their progressions against each other in stretto. The music’s declamatory and hymnal qualities will not be lost on those who favor Elgar’s string music in the same mode – his Op. 47 Introduction and Allegro.
The 1963 Symphony in C takes its cue form two neo-Classic precursors, Sibelius (his Seventh Symphony, Op. 105) and the Symphony in C by Stravinsky. Scored for large orchestra, the work takes in a range of emotional energies, and it sounds somewhat American in flavor and timbre, especially in its use of counterpoint, a David Diamond specialty. Agitated strings play against brass punctuations of “fateful” motivic allusions. The music grows in an almost academic fashion, sonata-form dictating the application of the expansion and modulated variation on the tunes emergent from the * with its constant iterations of the pitch C. The Andante evolves as a dark song with brass or tympanic threats shadowing the lyric elements each step of the way. We might hear influences of Hindemith and Bartok in the passing moments of counterpoint. A culmination of moody power erupts, most reminiscent of the gloomy colors in Sibelius. The last movement is marked Andante con moto–Presto, and it begins with muted horns and plucked strings. The skittish Presto maintains a sarcastic tone, along with a compositional prowess that suggests toccata for orchestra. The movement divides itself into three main periods, the third a Presto possibile which compresses the prior material into a small space. Some of the eerily delicate woodwind contrapunctus nods to Nielsen’s sound. Pungent, crisp work in strngs and horns bring the music to a decisive conclusion.
The so-called Sinfonia diatonica (1957) might be indebted to the neo-classicism of Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony. The music is not stark, but it is spare and emotionally direct. The music proceeds by contrasts, lines and harmonies moving up; and then their direction and color move down. The music, with its shifting horn and tympani parts, likes to gravitate to the modal (Aeolian) form of A Minor and then to the modal (Phrygian) form of E Minor/Major, procedures we find in the D Major Symphony of Sibelius and in some Brahms. The kernel-like riffs proceed with an economy of motion Stravinsky would admire, the music plastic but not harsh. The flute solo often reminds us that Nature need not be a punisher. The end of the movement suggests a détente in an uneasy world. The Largo provides a D Major song, a paean that will likely provide a movie soundtrack eventually; maybe it is the love-music if someone remakes On the Waterfront. A series of instrumental canons ensues, and they sound like sweet canzoni by Gabrieli. After a “medieval” opening, the Ben marcato assai molto proceeds rather diaphanously, a series of pointillist, staccato dabs and jabs into space in mixed colors. Woodwinds dominate, and the sound, once more, has an American, dance timbre, maybe Rieti or the contrapuntal side of Randall Thompson. The happy conclusion testifies to a healthy, animated musical spirit, a tonic force in direct opposition to the minimalist or disruptive, disturbed visions in music that occupied much space and time contemporaneous with Schwarz-Schilling.