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.
“Gerhaher caught the cycle’s introspection perfectly” The Guardian on Schoeck’s Notturno