This is an enterprising release containing a work each from close German contemporaries Walter Braunfels and Richard Strauss. The fortunes of each composer took very different paths. Up to 1933 Braunfels’ career had progressed extremely well especially with the success of his opera Die Vögel (The Birds) premièred in 1920 in Munich. This was followed by his being dismissed from his official roles and withdrawing from public life, He was half Jewish and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany scuppered any chances he had of making further progress in music together with the fear of his life being in peril. His music is all but forgotten today whereas the music of the older Richard Strauss didn’t really suffer under Nazi rule and has flourished internationally ever since.
The first work Braunfels’s String Quintet, Op. 63, composed in 1944/45 in the midst of the terrible war years. It was initially conceived as a quartet before a second cello was added in the manner of the famous Schubert Quintet in C major. Cast in four movements it is a substantial work lasting almost 40 minutes. Squally music marks the lengthy opening Allegro with a distinct undercurrent of dark agitation. The intensity tightens and the weight increases as the music becomes ever more melancholy. An atmosphere of cheerless desolation suffuses the Adagio — maybe a representation of war-time destruction and emotional pain. Rather disjointed and irregular in rhythm the Scherzo speaks of bewilderment and anxiety. The Finale, Rondo feels like a sardonic country dance; unruly and often bitter.
Metamorphosen,a study for 23 solo strings with its compositional date of 1944/45. is contemporaneous with the BraunfelsQuintet.One of Strauss’s most deeply felt works it could be described as a personal outpouring reflecting the terrors of the world war. Here the arrangement for seven strings was prepared by Rudolf Leopold. The score is fundamentally a large-scale lament — an Adagio with a contrasting central section marked Agitato. Bleak and despondent this wretchedly melancholic music feels like a depiction of a world in ruins with meagre shafts of light shining through the anguish. Gringolt and his players bring a cool, steely and achingly intense beauty to their interpretation.
The Zurich-based Gringolts Quartet was founded in 2008 at Schloss Elmau following connections made at the International Musicians Seminar in Prussia Cove, England.
These two fascinating works are well worth getting to know: one obscure from Braunfels and the other by Strauss in an unfamiliar guise. These are deeply felt and impeccably prepared performances rendered in excellent sound: cool, clear and well balanced.