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Concerto quasi una fantasia in B flat major, Op 21
1910/12; composed for Stefi Geyer; first performed by Willem de Boer in Berlin in Febraury 1912 in a violin and piano version, the composer at the piano

'Glazunov & Schoeck: Works for violin and orchestra' (CDA67940)
Glazunov & Schoeck: Works for violin and orchestra
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Movement 1: Allegretto
Movement 2: Grave, non troppo lento Ė
Movement 3: Allegro con spirito

Concerto quasi una fantasia in B flat major, Op 21
Schoeck’s early Concerto quasi una fantasia in B flat major, Op 21, for violin and full orchestra, is his most substantial concert work. It is also the most impressive memorial of his infatuation with the Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer (1888–1956), whom Schoeck first encountered in Leipzig in 1907 while still a pupil of Max Reger, and then pursued—with persistence but, so far as we can tell, only Platonic success—over five years and in different European cities. The reserved and elusive Geyer was already the muse of Béla Bartók (who wrote his first violin concerto for her), and in 1908–9 Schoeck dedicated to her a sonata for violin and piano (which she did not perform). He was desolated when Geyer became engaged to a Viennese lawyer, but contrived to spend a happy week with her in her native Budapest in 1910, after which he began composing the violin concerto in her honour. Again, Geyer was not destined to give the premiere, although she did perform and even record the work in later life.

The first movement, drafted by the end of 1910, received a play-through in Vevey in May 1911, and the whole concerto was first heard—with piano accompaniment—in Berlin in February 1912 with Schoeck at the keyboard and the Dutch violinist Willem de Boer, the leader of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, as soloist. De Boer was also the solist in the orchestral premiere, given less than a month later in Bern, Switzerland, with the Bern Symphony Orchestra under Schoeck’s friend, the composer and conductor Fritz Brun, and in the first Zurich performance the following week under Volkmar Andreae.

At this stage in his career Schoeck was relatively inexperienced in creating large-scale abstract forms; the work gave him considerable trouble and he remained dissatisfied with it, partly hiding that dissatisfaction under a subtitle—‘quasi una fantasia’—that may seek to deflect criticism for an apparent lack of overall coherence. Nevertheless, the lyric passion and attractiveness of the work’s ideas earn it a distinguished place among the violin concertos of the immediate pre-World War I period. Although Schoeck’s models were clearly the great Romantic concertos of the later nineteenth century (Brahms, Bruch and perhaps Dvorák; the warm chromatic harmony makes it highly likely that he also studied the fine concerto by his erstwhile teacher Max Reger), he was able to infuse his ideas with an individual flavour. Interestingly, the work contains no cadenza; it seems as if Schoeck was more concerned to create an impression of seamless, if often rhapsodic, activity in which the violinist is kept fully occupied almost from first bar to last.

The concerto starts abruptly, in medias res, with bell-like horns and busy, chattering violin figuration that Schoeck apparently associated with swallows fluttering in the sunshine around a high roof (perhaps a reminiscence of his living quarters in the top floor flat of a chalet on the edge of Zurich, high above the city panorama). Almost at once, however, the soloist gives out not one but two long-breathed and intensely lyrical themes which will constitute the main focus of the movement. A more vigorous third theme, with a hint of fanfare, completes the melodic roster and the ‘swallows’ flight’ figuration leads into the development, which is freely associative rather than logically worked out, the soloist remaining the centre of attention and taking up first one idea, then another, and always varying them. A free recapitulation quickens towards the coda, where the momentum dissipates and the music seems to sink into a rapt nostalgic dream.

The slow movement, Grave, non troppo lento, begins with sinister drum beats and a hollow, oppressed-sounding woodwind theme. The violin responds to this opening in more lyrical and hopeful vein, continuing to develop ideas first heard in the previous movement. Despite the beauty and mounting passion of the violin writing, with an eloquently ‘speaking’ theme in the movement’s central section, it does not entirely succeed in dispelling the orchestral gloom. Again there are extended stretches of romantic reverie. The mood then brightens with the unexpected appearance of a pastoral woodwind idea that will turn out to be the main theme of the finale.

The finale opens Allegro con spirito with the pastoral theme now in the guise of a vivacious dance, and it seems as if Schoeck’s intention is to write a lively rondo-type finale; but, before long, thematic reminiscences and romantic nostalgia are again the order of the day and the music sinks increasingly into bittersweet meditation that includes some of the most beautiful pages in the entire concerto. The dance music comes and goes, but so does the soulful reverie: it seems as if the work is going to fade out in a sunset glow, when at the very last minute Schoeck slips in a new, pawky, folk-like theme which blows away the cobwebs with a welcome touch of ironic humour.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2013

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Details for CDA67940 track 8
Allegro con spirito
Recording date
21 October 2011
Recording venue
Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan
Hyperion usage
  1. Glazunov & Schoeck: Works for violin and orchestra (CDA67940)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: March 2013
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