BUTTERWORTH A Shropshire Lad STEPHAN Music for 7 Instruments
This recording marks the centenary of the untimely death of Rudi Stephan, a composer of remarkable talent who was killed on the Galician Front in September 1915. Two fascinating works feature here: the Musik für sieben Saiteninstrumente (1911) and the Musik für Orchester (1912). These works, which reflected Stephan’s strongly formalist desire to allow the music to express itself without any additional descriptive appendages (hence their somewhat abstract titles), brought Stephan’s name forward as one of the most promising young composers of his time. Couched in a post-Wagnerian chromatic language more redolent of Schoenberg’s first period, each work has a considerable brooding intensity and emotional power, the former with its more wiry chamber polyphony, the second with its textural richness and harmonic resource.
Juxtaposed with Stephan’s overt Teutonic Romanticism are George Butterworth’s four orchestral works, the Two English Idylls, The Banks of Green Willow (inspired by English folksong) and the more substantial (and more harmonically advanced) rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. These more overtly nationalist works were composed at much the same time as Stephan’s, and Butterworth died at a comparable age at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, making their inclusion that much more poignant. This is the first German recording I have heard of Butterworth’s wistful masterpieces and they are interpreted with sympathy by Abdullah and the Aachen Symphony Orchestra. However, some of the composer’s pointillistic scoring requires a greater clarity (especially at the climaxes), there is the odd blemish of ensemble and the orchestral sound seems rather distant. I also question the occasional tempo decision here and there: the second Idyll is a little too fast for my liking, as are parts of the rhapsody too slow.