Germany, in 2004, issued a commemorative stamp in the one-hundredth anniversary of the German composer, Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904-1985). And yet his enigma looms and looms large, with barely a mention of his name in music encyclopedias and in other sources that I came across with even recently. Recordings, until now, had very little of his music, with slight exceptions of his songs and organ works that prop up only sporadically. His son, however, is more of a headliner (in Germany and in Europe anyway), Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a German politician.
So, this disc serves as a valuable introduction to his music. Like Carl Orff, Schwarz-Schilling was a pupil of Heinrich Kaminski (1886-1946), a pedagogue and composer who went afoul with the Nazis and became a persona non grata as a result. Schwarz-Schilling likewise resisted the regime and became a freelance composer, performer, and pedagogue (of the Berlin Musikhochschule (Berlin Music College) where he would lead its composition department by 1969). He was also surprisingly prolific, with a whole array of compositions under his belt (and incidentally well revered for his sacred works, songs, and instrumental as well as chamber pieces). The music here shows him as a serious, well-crafted composer in his own right, a keen follower of tradition with a tight, straight and fairly narrow approach to musical creation. He was not an espouser of Germany's expressionist movement or the Avant Garde nor did he embrace sensationalism so common in his day. So anyone who's familiar with Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Frankel, or Stravinsky, should expect the opposite here.
And if anything else, his music is highly approachable like, for instance, his Introduction and Fugue for Strings (1949) recorded here. Taken from his String Quartet written seventeen years earlier, this is one of the most elegant pieces I've heard (quite as sublime as Heino Eller's Elegia for Harp and Strings (1931) though not quite as modern in sound). Instead, this piece is sort of a homage to the German Classics á la Beethoven and Bach. Neoclassical sort of, but in a different league from, say, Carl Nielsen. His Symphony in C (1963), in a sense Schumannesque, shows the tightness of his argument and thematic development. But it is his Sinfonia diatonica (1957) that I find more interesting. Curiously enough, though perhaps not surprising, the composer lost interest of the work after he performed it in 1958 with Munich Philharmonic and sanctioned the separate performance of the Largo movement (he was particularly not too satisfied with the finale). But here, the ideas have greater spontaneity and freedom than in the Symphony in C and the experience feels less of an exercise. How the first movement begins and ends (with a highly contrasting, dynamic development in between) is especially thought provoking. But the largo second movement, airy in feel, is a work of real ingenuity and sublimity. It reminds me of a slow movement of a Ned Rorem symphony, with that quiet picturesque, almost ethereal quality that grips a listener to one's subconscious. Oh, how regrettable it is, therefore, that like in Rorem's, the movement winds up being too short for its own good. And the finale? I think the type that would do Shostakovich and Antheil proud.
José Serebrier's penchant for details pays huge dividends here, and like in Rorem's symphonies (also in Naxos), has such a remarkable sense of structure and verve. I cannot imagine a better molding of the ideas than what we have here and the Staatskapelle Weimar more than meets this great, versatile conductor half way. The booklet essay of Christoph Schlüren (with the composer's assessments of his works recorded here) is excellent as well as scholarly while the recording is first class and ideally detailed and atmospheric. This is one heck of an album to treasure for some time to come.