Schoeck: Elegie, Op. 36 / Gerhaher, Holliger, Basel Chamber Orchestra
A New Yorker Notable Recording of 2022!
On his new album Elegie, Sony Classical artist and pre-eminent lieder singer Christian Gerhaher returns to the beguiling beauty and dark melancholy of late-Romantic Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck.
Schoeck’s song-cycle Elegie was compared to music ‘from another world’ when it was first performed in 1923 and remains one of the unappreciated wonders of the lieder repertoire. Its 24 songs, accompanied by an ensemble of 15 instrumentalists, trace a narrative of aching farewells, lost love, and fading beauty.
Christian Gerhaher is in demand the world over for his instantly recognizable baritone voice, which combines lightness and lyricism with unparalleled depth of meaning. It is the perfect vessel for Austro-German lieder and has found a resonant home in Schoeck’s music. Following in the footsteps of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerhaher has already proved himself a renowned exponent of Schoeck’s Notturno for baritone and string quartet.
On this new recording of Elegie, Gerhaher’s characteristic plangent delivery and intimacy with the microphone reveal the glowing beauty of these curious and captivating songs, which set handpicked poems by Eichendorff and Lenau. The cycle presents a series of atmospheric portraits linked by a first person half-narrative that slips and slides between emotional states, much of it stalked by a deep sense of loneliness.
Schoeck’s dark, introspective score has prompted intrigue among musicologists and historians. Some speculate that Elegie was a reaction to the composer’s intense but ultimately unhappy relationship with the pianist Mary de Senger, and his coming to terms with its anguished end (Elegie is dedicated to the pianist). Others have interpreted the work as Schoeck’s farewell to Romanticism, as the musical avant-garde moved to a place he no longer understood.
Schoeck’s music did react to contemporary trends. Elegie’s etched, precise and luminous ensemble of 15 players glances in the direction of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat.
On this recording, Gerhaher is joined by the boutique ensemble that is the Basel Chamber Orchestra and conductor Heinz Holliger.
Christian Gerhaher, perhaps [Dietrich] Fischer-Dieskau’s most formidable modern successor, has made an even stronger case in recordings of “Notturno” and “Elegie,” two Schoeck cycles for voice and ensemble. The Sony Classical label released Gerhaher’s account of “Elegie” earlier this year, and I have been listening to it obsessively, a little more mystified and mesmerized each time.
Gerhaher, born to sing such music, applies burnished tone, precise diction, and a hint of a cabaret artist’s arched eyebrows. The ensemble weaves dark magic around him...Heinz Holliger, who conducts the Basel Chamber Orchestra on the Sony recording, chooses to augment the string section, which only enriches the effect.
--The New Yorker (Alex Ross)
In a new recording with the Basel Chamber Orchestra and the conductor Heinz Holliger, Christian Gerhaher, a Schoeck champion, plies his sumptuous baritone in declamatory lines and arching phrases, and reaches effortlessly for limpid high notes. His voice recedes hauntingly into rests without cheating the full values of the notes.
Transience dominates: A string or a woodwind instrument, sometimes doubling the vocal line, sighs and dissipates against a stark orchestral landscape. Many songs hover around the two-minute mark, expiring quickly like lilacs plunked in a vase — fragrant, blooming, short-lived. Gerhaher and the players deliver the listener from these tiny deaths in the final, and longest, song, “Der Einsame,” sustaining its delicately spun lines in pillowy A-flat major and making peace with loneliness.
--The New York Times (Oussama Zahr)
Release Date: April 22, 2022
Catalog Number: 19439963302
Number of Discs: 1
Period: Late Romantic
Composer: Othmar Schoeck
Conductor: Heinz Holliger
Orchestra/Ensemble: Basel Chamber Orchestra
Performer: Christian Gerhaher
Elegie, Op. 36
Composer: Othmar Schoeck
Ensemble: Basel Chamber Orchestra
Performer: Christian Gehaher
Conductor: Henz Holliger