Othmar Schoeck’s Notturno, over forty minutes in length, is the featured work on this new recording by the Leipzig String Quartet and the baritone Stefan Genz. It is absolutely overwhelming how the musicians are able to discover so many multicolored and nuanced facets in a work initially creating the impression of great difficulty. Franz Schreker’s rarely heard ballet pantomime Der Wind (The Wind) functions as a contrast.
Schoeck employed texts by Nikolaus Lenau capturing motifs from romanticism’s dark side with consummate artistry and in a formal language verging on classicism. Fear and mourning play a role here, and farewell and loneliness are recurring themes. Loneliness is not always synonymous with fateful gloom and melancholy. Just listen to the marvelously sarcastic beginning of the last piece, in which the singer praises the advantages of drinks-for-one: “When ideas are seeped in wine, / Churn up to me the mud from the deep, / Just as an elephant chorus renders murky / The sacred wavy waters of the Ganges.”
Schoeck was anything but a globetrotter. Apart from a short period of study under Max Reger in Leipzig, he spent his life in picturesque Zurich. This time never- theless left behind its traces: Schoeck’s music is of the highest contrapuntal quality and ventures into thoroughly modern harmonic regions while always remaining free of any sort of mere trendiness. Schoeck engaged in close study of the masterpieces of his contemporaries – only then to distance himself precisely from such models and to develop his unique personalstyle.
Musical breezes soon ensue: for Franz Schreker’s ballet pantomime Der Wind, a work of impressionistic inspiration commissioned by the phenomenal dance icon Grete Wiesenthal, the strings of the Leipzig String Quartet join forces with the winds of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Olga Golej on the piano. Simply masterful, how delicate melody fragments in the winds and strings comment on nimble piano arpeggios, until the gathering storm uproots a tree whose leaves have the last word, rustling quietly and almost inaudibly in the wind!