Schoeck: Das holde Bescheiden

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COMPOSERS: Schoeck
LABELS: Claves
WORKS: Das holde Bescheiden
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 50-9308/9 DDD
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.

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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.

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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