Swiss Aspects: Orchestral Music from Argovia 1945-1970 / Douglas Bostock


This recent release from Coviello Classics titled Swiss Aspects presents live recordings from concerts marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Argovia Philharmonic. Its subtitle reads Orchestral Music from Argovia 1945-1970. This sent me to Google maps where I discovered Argovia is one of the northern cantons of Switzerland and is among the most densely populated regions of the country. The Argovia Philharmonic is conducted by Douglas Bostock. Both the performances and engineering are superb. This thoroughly satisfying album includes three world-premiere recordings and seems not to have received a fraction of the attention it merits from the critical press.

The program is arranged chronologically. The first work, Fantasie II, Op. 34 by Walther Geiser (1897-1993) was completed in 1945 and is a reflection on the war that had just come to a close. Written in a late-Romantic style it's a somber work, with a dark and ominous opening played by contrabassoon and double basses, quickly followed by an urgent allegro. This sixteen minute piece makes for a deeply satisfying listening experience.

The Geiser is followed by Marche fantasque by Heinrich Sutermeister 1910-1995), written in 1950. If you are listening to the album excerpt in the right sidebar as you read, this is the piece you are hearing. Sutermeister's potent orchestration is apparent from the opening bars for piano, bassoons and English horn. The trumpets later add a portentous, martial fanfare to the mix as the work slowly builds to its sudden conclusion. We can hear that Sutermeister had a flair for the dramatic in this second fine work from the album.

The remaining pieces are also compelling, effective compositions. From the opening of Peter Mieg's neo-classical Concerto da Camera (1952) with its overtones of Stravinsky and Bartók you sense how important the rhythmic element is to the work. This is followed by János Tamás' (1936-1995) Kodály and Bartók inspired Serenade for small orchestra. The final work on the album is the aptly-named Quasars, Op. 69 by Ernst Widmer (1927-1990). This piece is strikingly more avant-garde than the others. In this slowly changing, free-form composition, Widmer makes use of many modern techniques including tone clusters, glissandi, pulsating tones and bent notes.

This is a fine collection of music by five virtually unknown composers whose works sit well together. To varying degrees, these pieces have in common intriguing and effective formal structures, largely tonal complexions and colorful orchestration. It's one of the most outstanding collections of mid-twentieth century orchestral music I've come across in quite some time. For the adventurous listener, it's urgently recommended.

H. Sutermeister- Piano Concerto No. 2 (Daniel Hoexter)