Hermann Reutter Chamber Music Lieder Piano Works
Sonata. 4 Lieder nach Gedichten von
Friedrich Rückert, op. 54. Tanz-Suite,
op. 29. 3 Gesänge nach Texten von
Friedrich Hölderlin, op. 56. Epitaph
Speidel, Anna Beinhauer (pn)
Hermann Reutter (1900–1985) is all but forgotten today, but he was an
important figure in German music before, during, and after World War II. He was
born in Stuttgart, and spent much of his career as Rector of the city’s State
University for Music and the Performing Arts. As well as a teacher and
composer, he was active as a Lieder accompanist, and songs in the tradition of
Schumann and Brahms make up a large part of his output. The singers he
accompanied included Hermann Prey and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and their
recordings of his works make up the majority of his available catalog today.
But he was prolific in a variety of genres, especially orchestral music and
opera, and on the strength of this disc of songs and chamber music, there are
many fine works out there awaiting rediscovery.
One possible reason for Reutter’s recent neglect was his relationship
with the Nazis. He was a member of the party from 1933, but that didn’t stop
some of his music from being denounced as “degenerate,” in particular his
choral work Der neue Hiob, op. 37, which featured in the Düsseldorf
Entartete Musik exhibition and was
described by Goebbels as “horrible and unbearable.” But none of this seems to
have affected his career, which spanned the 20th century, as demonstrated here
with works ranging from 1926 (the Violin Sonata) to 1979 (Epitaph for Ophelia).
By post-war standards, Reutter’s music is conservative, but he has a
distinctive voice, combining Romantic and Modernist influences. The two song
cycles here, both from the war years, are in a German Romantic vein, the
textures more open than Pfitzner or Reger, but otherwise of that school. The
two violin works are more progressive, with the early Violin Sonata in
particular showing influence from Bartók and Stravinsky. The bare, open octaves
that open the work almost sound like Ligeti, although the music soon settles
into a more melodic style, albeit always angular and cleanly delineated. The Dance Suite was written in 1928 to a
commission from Schott (the publisher was loyal to the composer throughout his
life, and remains so today). They are pedagogical piano works, but with a
twist, designed to introduce young players to modern styles. So the dance
movements include a “Valse Boston” and a “Shimmy.” Unfortunately, the music
here is surprisingly derivative, those two movements closely resembling Debussy’s
“Voiles” and “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” respectively, and the preceding “Spanischer
Tanz” almost a pastiche on Chopin.
But elsewhere the music is more distinctive. The Epitaph for Ophelia is a freely ranging discourse on grief and despair.
It is written for violin and piano (arranged from a chamber orchestra accompaniment),
but for much of the work the violin plays alone, and the results are intimate
and elegiac. In the song cycles, too, Reutter is clearly in his element. His
experience as an accompanist shows in the restrained but effective colors and
textures of the piano parts, and the vocal lines are all carefully but
naturally calibrated to the cadence of the words, by Rückert and Hölderlin.
Texts and translations are included, but even listeners with only a
basic grasp of German are likely to pick up much of the text, such is the
clarity of the settings and the elegance of the presentation. Baritone Andreas
Beinhauer is ideal for this music, clear, rich, and emotive; a worthy successor
to Fischer-Dieskau who previously popularized
this music. Violinist Maria-Elisabeth Lott also excels, her sound tactile and
immediate in the sonata, but floating and ethereal in the Epitaph. Good pianists too,
although Reutter’s reticence in his piano writing means that both have to make
much out of often spare textures. The warm soundscape helps, in well-engineered
Another engaging and adventurous release, then, from the Capriccio label, and a tantalizing glimpse of a huge catalog as yet to be explored.
This review appears in Fanfare magazine, issue 41:6.
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