Schoeck: Das holde Bescheiden

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LABELS: Claves
WORKS: Das holde Bescheiden
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Hartmut Höll (piano)
The description of Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) as Switzerland’s most prominent 20th-century composer, though accurate, may appear to pay this substantial composer an excessively qualified compliment. But then, this seems typical of his fate: among performers and critics alike he has never lacked passionate advocates, yet Schoeck’s numerous compositions have so far failed to find the wider public they deserve.


Any attempt to define their attractions – among them his precise distillation of a late-Romantic musical idiom through neo-Classical forms, unshowy yet natural feeling for the voice, capacity for conveying strong emotional states without ever overstating them – may end up by sounding similarly qualified.

In that case, this late (1949), long, quietly masterly song cycle could well serve as a handy resumé of those attractions. A collection of 40 poems by Mörike, Das holde Bescheiden (The Just Measure) is a catalogue of subtle, finely contrasted song-styles in which the smallest detail of vocal or pianistic combination increases the resonance of the word setting.


It is a sad blot on an admirable undertaking by the Swiss company Claves that the German texts should be printed without English translation: this must inevitably limit the appeal of the set for non-German-speakers. But for the performances by Shirai, Fischer-Dieskau (frail-sounding but rich in understanding) and the pianist Höll there can be only praise. Max Loppert