DMITRI MITROPOULOS (1896-1960): Concerto Grosso, OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957): Lebendig begraben for Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 40, ARTHUR HONEGGER (1892-1955): Rugby.
Catalogue Number: 04W008
Description: Schoeck's superb orchestral monodrama (far more than it is a 'song cycle') is an instantly gripping, powerful work that fell into almost complete neglect - for no good reason - after being championed by Fischer-Dieskau in the 1960s. The work easily stands comparison with anything by Zemlinsky or Schrecker, or anything else after Das Lied von der Erde. The nightmarish premiss of the drama, setting texts from Gottfried Keller's Gedanken eines Lebendig-Begrabenen - Thoughts of One Buried Alive - is the poet's imagined burial, hearing the gravediggers departing, panic, despair and delusion about being dug up by wild animals, then delirious recollections of past beauty, and a final, dying acceptance. Schoeck's score is magnificently, sumptuously late-romantic in idiom, and suitably expressionistic in emotional turbulence. The music is continuous, presenting an ongoing and evolving narrative arc, very operatic (in fact in its early episodes of terror and impending doom, echoes of Busoni’s Doktor Faust are detectable (and the episode introduced by the organ is very reminiscent of the interlude with Gretchen's brother). Schoeck's colourful orchestration is very much his own, and the prominent part for the orchestral piano is especially striking. As the narrative progresses the music takes on a sense of determination, almost a tragic optimism in the face of inevitable fate, and the final section - the only one featuring the wordless choir - attains a kind of ecstasy. Mitropoulos would probably have been ideally suited as conductor for Schoeck's work; as it was, he was rightly lauded for his performances of Mahler, Strauss, the Second Viennese School and composers of that milieu such as Franz Schmidt. His truncated compositional career (he was advised to concentrate on conducting by Busoni, with whom he studied!) was clearly informed by the repertoire in which he excelled at the podium, and apparently he considered this substantial, predominantly dark-hued and dramatic 4-movement Concerto grosso from 1928 his best work. Each movement adds a different instrumental section to the strings, bringing them together in the finale like a concerto for orchestra - intriguingly pre-dating the Bartók (to which some passages bear a surprising resemblance) by almost two decades. The first movement is an imposing, austere introduction like an array of pillars of limited material, recalling the composer’s eremitic, almost hieratical lifestyle, which contrasted so oddly with his passionate conducting. A lively scherzo follows, fugal, bitonally astringent and dissonant, and orchestrated to highlight this bright but unsettling character. The slow movement combines static chorale textures with serpentine contrapuntal motion in a mood of brooding, tenebrous expectancy. The energetic fugal finale is propulsive, the dissonant intervals between the voices creating a sinewy, abrasive effect.