On record: Leila Josefowicz, Soloists, Finnish RSO / Hannu Lintu – Zimmermann: Violin Concerto & Die Soldaten (Ondine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leila Josefowicz (violin); Anu Komsi, Jeni Packalen (sopranos), Hilary Summers (contralto), Peter Tantsits (tenor), Ville Rusanen (baritone), Juha Uusitalo (bass), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hannu Lintu

Zimmermann
Violin Concerto (1950)
Die Soldaten – Vocal Symphony (1963)
Photoptosis (1968)

Ondine ODE1325-2 [73’45”]

Producer Laura Heikinheimo
Engineers Enno Mäemets, Anna-Kaisa Kamppi (Photoptosis), Jari Rantakaulio (Violin Concerto), Antti Pohjola (Die Soldaten)

Recorded June 2016 (Photoptosis), May 2018 (Violin Concerto), live in September 2018 (Die Soldaten) at Helsinki Music Centre, Helsinki

What’s the story?

A belated though most welcome addition to those releases marking the centenary of the birth of Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-70), the Cologne-based composer whose singular music has gradually gained in recognition during the almost half-century since his untimely demise.

What’s the music like?

One of Zimmermann’s earliest successes, the Violin Concerto emerged out of a Violin Sonata from two years earlier. Most distinctive is the central Fantasia, whose rapt intensity (notably in its closing pages) is thrown into relief by the movements either side – a vehement opening Sonata with antecedents in Hindemith and Hartmann, then a final Rondo whose element of rumba duly adds to the heady abandon. Leila Josefowicz (who gave a memorable account of the Sonata at Wigmore Hall – reviewed by Arcana here) touches all the expressive bases for this impressive reading.

It was with his opera Die Soldaten that Zimmermann fully came into his own as a composer. Its gestation (1957-65) was a protracted one, during which the dramatic concept was radically overhauled without diluting the music’s emotive power. Intended to demonstrate the latter’s practicability (along the lines of Berg’s Lulu Symphony a quarter-century before), this Vocal Symphony comprises scenes from the first two of four acts in which the ultimately tragic fate of merchant’s daughter Marie at the hands of a brutal military class is set in motion.

Among the six soloists, Anu Komsi and Hilary Summers stand out for their security in the acrobatic vocal lines, while without eschewing more tangibly human expression. Yet it is in the purely orchestral episodes where Zimmermann’s increasing radicalism comes fully into focus – the Preludio with its melange of competing textures over the remorseless tread of drums; then the Intermezzo during Act Two – the simultaneity of action onstage mirrored by a layering of musical events with Zimmermann’s trait of timbral contrast rendered at its most visceral.

By the time of the ‘prelude for large orchestra’ that is Photoptosis, the composer’s idiom had found even greater power and concentration – evident in the textural stratification of its outer sections as they build from fugitive unease to assaultive violence. Between them, an interlude of half-remembered quotations and allusions ranges from the provocative to the inane – as if to confirm that remorseless ‘closing-in’ of the musical past on that of the present, and thereby denying any purpose for a creative future such as overcame Zimmermann in his final years.

Does it all work?

Yes, and not least when the performances are as perceptive as they are here. Both the Violin Concerto and Photoptosis have been recorded several times, not least by Thomas Zehetmair (ECM) and Karl-Heinz Steffens (Capriccio), though these new accounts would now be first choices. The Soldaten-Symphony has had no previous commercial recording (live readings by Hiroshi Wakasugi in 1978 and Peter Hirsch in 2014 can be heard on YouTube), making this an essential addition to the Zimmermann discography aside from its artistic excellence.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Hannu Lintu draws a committed response from his Finnish Radio Symphony players, recorded with unstinting clarity and the programme afforded context by a thoughtful booklet note from Mark Berry. An impressive release with which to mark Zimmermann’s centenary.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about this release on the Ondine website

Live review – Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Laurence Equilbey: Tales of Mendelssohn I

Rowan Pierce (soprano), Jessica Gillingwater (mezzo-soprano), Hilary Summers (contralto), Martin Mitterutzner (tenor), Huw Montague Rendall (baritone), SCO Chorus, Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Laurence Equilbey (above, photo credit Julien Benhamou

City Halls, London
Friday 30 November 2018

Mendelssohn
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture Op.21 (1826) and Incidental Music Op.61 (1842)
Die erste Walpurgisnacht (1844)

Written by Ben Hogwood

Four seasons in one day. That phrase could apply not just to the Glasgow weather on the last day in November, but also to this enticing pair of stage works beginning the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Tales of Mendelssohn series at City Halls. One, the composer’s music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is well known and loved, but the other, a setting of Goethe’s text for Die erste Walpurgisnacht, is barely heard – and made a strong dramatic impact here.

It was the well-known first, with Laurence Equilbey leading a winsome account of some wonderful incidental music. The Overture skimmed and shimmered into the half light, pressing forward with captivating energy – as did the following Scherzo. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra may have been missing a few of their principal players and regulars but that did not dampen their enthusiasm or ensemble, the music given a zestful quality under the encouragement of the stylish conducting of Equilbey.

The bright voices of the ladies of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus helped, too – and Ye spotted snakes received a charming account, especially with the clarity and control of soloists Rowan Pierce (above) and Jessica Gillingwater, both of whom sang beautifully. The Nocturne and Wedding March were charming too, the latter briskly dispatched, but if anything the lesser known Dance of Clowns and choral finale Through this house made an even stronger impression.

What a contrast between this music and that which began Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night). From the outset this was music of sturm und drang, of fire and brimstone, the composer seemingly relishing the opportunity to set Goethe’s text in a fiery context, interpreted as a barely concealed riposte to anti-Semitism.

The lean strings were quite a shock, as were the striking sonorities with the composer imaginatively doubling horn and bassoon. The tension went up a notch when the chorus joined, singing with real vehemence in the Chorus of the Druid Guards and Heathen People. The three soloists were excellent, too – the probing tone of tenor Martin Mitterutzner complemented by the fuller sound of Huw Montague Rendell (above), whose baritone carried effortlessly to the corners of the hall, and the rounded, velvety quality of Hilary Summers’ contralto.

This was a bracing and at times alarming account, exploring Mendelssohn’s choral writing with no stone unturned, passionately overseen by Equilbey, who clearly loves the piece. So much so that we had an encore of the Chorus of the Druid Guards and heathen People, the chorus deserving of their starring role again. There are two more installments to come in the Tales of Mendelssohn series this month – and if you have the chance they are warmly recommended, revealing contrasting aspects of this fascinating composer and the development of his style.

Further listening

The music from this concert can be heard on the Spotify playlist below: