WORKS: Eine Art Chansons
PERFORMER: HK Gruber (chansonnier), Martin Jones (piano), Robin McGee (double bass), James Holland (percussion), Gerhard Rühm, HC Artmann (readers)
CATALOGUE NO: 5126 DDD (distr. Complete Record Company)
‘Alternative Vienna’ was the title of a concert series organised at London’s South Bank Centre in April last year which focused upon the music of HK Gruber and Kurt Schwertsik. This pair of Largo discs, along with the recording of Gruber’s Violin Concerto reviewed elsewhere in this month’s issue, grew directly out of the South Bank celebration; the Cerha disc was even recorded at one of the concerts in the Purcell Room. Friedrich Cerha (born in 1926, and responsible for the completion of the third act of Alban Berg’s Lulu) has emerged as a kind of mascot to Gruber and Schwertsik, appealing to them by his total lack of aesthetic dogma.
Gruber himself delivers the Cerha settings of Rühm and Artmann. He is a charming and intense singer/narrator, styling himself a ‘chansonnier’; his quirky humour tries hard to hide his prodigious musicianship. Those who have never heard Gruber perform, as well as those addicted to his anarchic style, ought to hear this disc; they might well take a fancy to Cerha’s settings, which come across as an unlikely hybrid of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire and Strauss’s Rosenkavalier, a kind of expressionist schmaltz.
Schwertsik’s delicate, understated vocal settings are another matter. Three song cycles are interspersed with miniatures for cello and piano, all of them existing in a musical time warp which evokes a whole range of Viennese models from Schubert to Schoenberg, via Wolf and Strauss. They are beautifully sung by Christa Schwertsik with her husband as accompanist; how posterity will treat such music no one can tell, but Schwertsik’s sincerity and musicality shine through every bar. Andrew Clements