Schoeck: Notturno

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schoeck
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Notturno
PERFORMER: Christian Gerhaher (baritone); Rosumunde Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 476 6995

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With its focus on earthly love and transfiguration, the obvious comparison here is with Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet.

Othmar Schoeck, a late Romantic writing at the time of the avant garde, composed his Notturno for String Quartet and Voice between 1931 and 1933. It’s a deeply personal dark night of the soul, setting ten poems by Nikolaus Lenau within  five movements. 

A nightmarish Scherzo, fine and strong as a spider’s web, is woven frantically above the elevated speech-song of the voice; a chromatic, Berg-like Rondo turns into a tortured grappling with time and eternity; and recitative rises over a final chaconne in a setting of Gottfried Keller’s hymn to the sun.

The work was championed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – and he could hardly wish for a better successor here than Christian Gerhaher: gentler, more intimate and less magisterial than Fischer-Dieskau, but with the same strong and impassioned musical intelligence.

The Rosamunde Quartet play with both textural and structural clarity (especially in the 17-minute first movement), yet with a fragile, tremulous inner ardour which makes Schoeck’s obsessively reiterated and transforming themes rise out of
his troubled consciousness and are brought vividly into our own.

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There are no fillers here: just a single performance, immaculately produced. Hilary Finch