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January 11 , 2010

Schoeck's Notturno featuring on Alex Ross' list "2009: Ten exceptional recordings"

Overwhelming critical acclaim for „Notturno“, Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck’s all but forgotten five movements for string quartet and voice on poems by Nikolaus Lenau and a fragment by Gottfried Keller. The 45-minute song cycle of 1933 was released on ECM in October in a recording by the much-lauded German baritone Christian Gerhaher and the Rosamunde Quartett and has since been hailed as an outstanding interpretation and an exquisite addition to the repertoire. Some reviewers have drawn comparisons to Schoenberg’s second string quartet or to the “Lyric suite” by Alban Berg.

In his selection of “ten exceptional recordings” of 2009 The New Yorkers’s Alex Ross confesses: “Lately I’ve fallen under the autumnal spell of ‘Notturno’…On an immaculate ECM production, Christian Gerhaher sings with hushed intensity, and the infinitely gentle C-major chaconne that enters at the end is like a secret gift to the patient listener.” Ross’s New Yorker colleague Russell Platt calls the new recording "radiant" and the Gottfried Keller set “one of the most astonishing moments in twentieth-century art”.

More praise comes from Hilary Finch in BBC Music Magazine: “The work was championed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – and he could hardly wish for a better successor here than Christian Gerhaher: gentler, more intimate and less magisterial than Fischer-Dieskau, but with the same strong and impassioned musical intelligence. The Rosamunde Quartet play with both textural and structural clarity (especially in the 17-minute first movement), yet with a fragile, tremolous inner ardour which makes Schoeck’s obsessively reiiterated and transforming themes rise out of his troubled consciousness and are brought vividly in our own.”

In The Philadelphia Inquirer David Patrick Stearns is no less impressed: “The performance is optimum. The Rosamunde Quartet finds expressive immediacy in what could often be heard as poetic ambiguity… Though Lenau’s verse is a bit flowery in a Biedermeier sort of way, Gerhaher treats it to an imaginative range of vocal color, but with a tone more yielding than Fischer-Dieskau’s. I could listen to him all day.”

Rémy Louis from the French magazine Diapason labels the new recording as the “most stark and introverted version of a work which is austere in itself: It will stun everybody who is up to the experience. This black diamond stands by itself: its world is self-sufficient.”

Further enthusiastic reviews were published, among others, in Neue Zürcher Zeitung („a haunting musical experience“), Sueddeutsche Zeitung („a dramatic imaginary scene transported into the darker nightmarish layers by the strings”) or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung („fascinating as it is at first listening, this album reveals its many illuminative facets only at repeated encounters”.)

Click here to listen to an excerpt: