On record – Jürgen Bruns conducts Hanns Eisler’s Leipzig Symphony (Capriccio)

Eisler
Leipziger Sinfonie (1959-62: compl. 1998 Medek)*
Trauerstücke aus Filmpartituren (1961/2: arr. 2015 Bruns/Fasshauer)*
Nuit et brouillard (1955: original film score)**

*MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, **Kammersymphonie Berlin / Jürgen Bruns

Capriccio C5368 [63’22”]

Producers *Stefan Antonin, **Gideon Boss
Engineers *Martin Staffe and Robert Baldowski, **Stefan Haberfeld and Regine Kraus

Recorded **9 November 2015 at Konzerthaus, Berlin; *15-16 August 2018 at MDR Studios, Leipzig

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

An important disc of orchestral works from Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), each a first recording and confirming the continued distinctiveness of his music over his final years in (then) East Berlin, when more ambitious plans were constantly thwarted by the East German authorities.

What’s the music like?

Eisler essayed symphonic pieces across his output, notably the Deutsche Sinfonie that is his largest concert work.

The Leipzig Symphony was commissioned by that city’s Gewandhaus orchestra but, at the time of Eisler’s death, consisted of a folio of sketches and memos given definition by Tilo Medek (1940-2006) to commemorate the composer’s centenary. Drawing mainly on film scores (as Eisler had done in his six orchestral suites), these four movements make for a quirky yet compelling entity: unfolding from the pungent contrasts of the initial Prelude and Idyll, via a restive slow movement then a sardonic scherzo both entitled Con moto, to a closing March without Words whose bracing impetus is typical of Eisler at all stages of his career. Some aspects – notably a percussive onslaught at the end of the second movement – are likely interventions by Medek (briefly a pupil of Eisler), though overall the expressive content and formal follow-through have an authentic quality such as makes this piece a necessary addition to the Eisler catalogue and one that warrants repeated exposure.

The other two works are both film scores. In the instance of Funeral Pieces of Motion Picture Scores, its nine miniatures were extracted by Jürgen Bruns and Tobias Fasshauer from music for two films about the Holocaust. The moods may be consistently subdued, but the motivic repetition Eisler threaded ingeniously through these scores has enabled a cohesive sequence whose end returns deftly or without contrivance to its beginning. Given that both films were forgotten soon after being made, this arrangement constitutes a worthwhile act of restitution.

Night and Fog presents a rather different proposition. This half-hour piece is in fact the entire score to a documentary about Auschwitz shot (partly on location) by Alain Renais and whose acclaim facilitated his subsequent film career. This is now available on DVD and mandatory viewing, yet Eisler’s contribution is entirely viable on its own terms. Its 13 numbers (lasting between 30 seconds and five minutes) again opt for understatement.

Peter Deeg’s insightful booklet note indicates how the studio musicians seemed nonplussed by Eisler’s insistence on emotional restraint, but the resulting music is its own justification; whether in more ominous episodes (not least one entitled Herr Himmler), or the final movement that encapsulates its subject in a threnody of Mahlerian anguish. Never was Eisler’s ‘commitment’ more explicit.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. It helps that the playing of both MDR Symphony and Berlin Chamber Symphony orchestras feels unerringly attuned to the angularity yet also plangency of Eisler’s expressive ambit, ably guided by the versatile Jürgen Bruns so all three pieces leave a lasting impression.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. To get the measure of Eisler, the collection of (mainly) Berlin Classics recordings – now available on Brilliant Classics – is an essential purchase, but the present disc is a vital supplement and a further significant release from the always enterprising Capriccio label.

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For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Capriccio website