Hans Huber was a Swiss composer whose music and life straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The music itself remains resolutely a product of vintage nineteenth century romanticism. Nothing desperately original here but whoever said that music had to be original to be enjoyable. If you enjoy Brahms, Dvorák, Stanford, Smetana, Fibich or Suk delay no longer. These discs are for you.
His grounding in music came from his father, a skilled amateur musician. He became a chorister at Solothurn but made such astounding progress with his piano studies that he switched from an ecclesiastical learning environment to a secular college. From 1870 to 1874 he attended Leipzig Conservatory studying with Reinecke. He then taught in the Alsace until, in 1877, he came to Basel. Denied a place at the Basel Conservatory until 1889, once ensconced, he soon made rapid progress as his works gained recognition. By 1896 he had been appointed Director. He died in Locarno in 1921 in the same year as Saint-Saëns.

He has eight symphonies to his name as well as a concerto apiece for violin, cello and piano, nine violin sonatas and five cello sonatas. These are:-

No. 1 William Tell (1882)
No. 2 Böcklin (1900)
No. 3 Heroische (1902)
No. 4
No. 5 Der Geiger von Gmünde (1906)
No. 6 (1911)
No. 7
No. 8 Frühlings-Symphonie (1920)

SYMPHONY NO. 3 «HEROISCHE» (1902) [42.35]

SYMPHONY NO. 6 (1911) [34.51]  

Stuttgarter Philharmoniker
Jörg-Peter Weigle 

World Premiere Recordings
STERLING CDS-1037-2 [77.31]

Two Huber symphonies on a most generously coupled disc.
Among the sea-sweep and flow of first movement of the
Heroische Symphonie you will find a Brahmsian approach (especially Brahms Symphony No. 1) and touches of Elgar («Enigma») and Richard Strauss (solo violin). The measured and ponderous tread of the «Funeral March» is punctuated by tubular bells and given a somewhat ambivalent ghoulish air. The «Totentanz» movement has a nicely alcoholic sway with horn and trumpet solos over a pizzicato string pasture. You can now add this symphony to the long list of Dies Irae appearances in classical music. The finale features a concert organ and a soprano (Barbara Baier) singing the «Sanctus».

Sixth Symphony announces itself in raucous exuberance and as it progressed reminded me of Siegfried Wagner's orchestral music (note the long-running CPO series) especially in its naïve playfulness. In the second movement the stahlspiel tinkles graciously but the movement is undermined by a rather stop-start progress. The adagio (III) is romantically 'slippery' with a strong Lisztian element. The effervescent spring of the woodwind writing marks out the finale. There is yet more Lisztian influence in the wheedling solo violin (6.28). The rhythms engagingly developed in this movement are decidedly terpsichorean mating this movement with Smetana's «Festive Symphony» and Bizet's Symphony in C. The warmth of the closing bars links the work with Dvorák Symphony No. 8 and Mendelssohn's «Scottish Symphony».

Both symphonies have their weaknesses but the sheer pleasure returned each time you listen to these works more than compensates.

Rob Barnett

Huber achieved his most enduring and greatest effect in his symphonies. Strange as it may seem, it is nevertbeless discemible that, even in his symphonies, Huber reveals himself to be Swiss to the core'
(W. Reitz)
The eight symphonies of Hans Huber,ber are the works in which be expressed himself most clearly and with the greatest individuality. Huber's symphonies cover a span of some forty years
Huber only really found his own voice, however, with his Third Symphony, which be called the Heroic and which was first perfonned in Basel on 9th February 1902, conducted by the composer. With this work Huber established himself as a recognized pioncer of Swiss symphonie music, a rôle model for younger composers such as Fritz Brun, Hermann Suter and Volkmar Andreae.

ERSTE SERENADE (Sommernächte) (1885)

SYMPHONY NO. 5 «Romantische» - «Der Geige von Gmünd». (1906)  

Hansheinz Schneeberger (violin)
Stuttgarter Philharmoniker
Jörg-Peter Weigle

World Premiere Recordings
STERLING CDS-1037-2 [77.31]

The notes mention Brahms two serenades but do so only to point up that the Brahms works were warm-ups for a symphony. The Huber Serenade is a true serenade in the spirit of tens (or was it hundreds) of Mozart's Cassations, Serenades and Nocturnes. The first movement's sun-warmed uplands are of the same marque as the Brahms «Haydn Variations» and Second Symphony. The second movement - especially in its woodwind contributions - suggests a Czech heritage, some of dash of Beethoven's «Eroica» and the wavering romance of Prokofiev's «Classical Symphony». 'The sleepy hill of summer' seems to be the alma mater of the «Nocturne» and it is at this point that the identically entitled serenade by Othmar Schoeck is closest. The finale is a furious dappled rush of music.

Fifth Symphony's programme is fully treated in the notes, and this is as it should be, but I would suggest that you take no notice of the quaint story. Just take this for what it is: as an unfamiliar symphony for orchestral with violin solo. The mature solo violin part is Brahmsian (somehow emphasised by woodland birdcalls) and recorded with definition but without undue prominence. Several times Schneeberger's travel through this score made me think of the middle movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto although the work is not a concerto. The adagio (10) is a sort of fantasy-idyll for violin and orchestra with a cousin in the shape of Josef Suk's 1903 «Fantasy» for violin and orchestra. The allegro (II) is loyal to the sound of that sunniest of lyrical violin concertos, the Dvorák, although, towards the close, it becomes a slightly ghoulish nocturnal pilgrimage. The finale is regal and plays out to some classically grand manner flourishes.

Only 1, 4, 7 and 8 to come now! Eagerly anticipated.

Rob Barnett

These are world première recordings in Sterling's Romantic Swiss music series.

Hans Huber was amongst the leading musical personalities in the German-speaking part of Switzerland in the years around the beginning of the 20th century. He was born in 1852 in a small community in the north-west Swiss canton of Solothurn. He studied under Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and subsequently taught music in Alsace from where he made his first contacts with musical life in Basel where he moved in 1877. In 1892 he achieved celebratory status with his «Festpielmusik zur Klein-Basler Gedenkfeier». He became diabetic and died in 1921 during a stay at a spa in Locarno. He composed masses, choral works, five operas, eight numbered symphonies, solo concertos for piano, violin and cello plus a large amount of chamber music, numerous songs and innumerable piano pieces.

Huber's 'Romantic' symphony is a vivid programmatic work comparable to Raff's Symphony No.5 'Leonore'. Huber's work is based on a poem (reproduced in full in the booklet) that celebrates a legend associated with the statue of St Cecilia (the patron saint of music, of course) that stood in the chapel in the town of Cmünd. The legend relates how a poor fiddler came in distress to the chapel and played with such sad eloquence that it moved the saint to pity so that her statue moved and gave the fiddler her golden slipper. The fiddler rushed out to exchange the shoe for bread but when the shoe was recognised, the fiddler was accused and tried as a thief and condemned to death. On the way to the scaffold the fiddler pleaded to be taken back to the chapel to pay his last respects to Saint Cecilia. With this wish granted, the fiddler played once again before the statue of the saint and a second miracle occurred when the statue gave the fiddler her other slipper. The townsfolk were awestruck and released the fiddler who now became a hero. At length he departed on his merry way but from henceforth the townsfolk always respected and honoured visiting fiddlers.

Now Huber weaves his music around this legend and poem but he does not translate the story literally but uses it in a stylised form. He imagines, for instance, the fiddler's circumstances before he arrives in Gmünd. Huber is, of course, provided with a golden opportunity to utilise a violinist as soloist to personify the fiddler and the work proceeds very much in the spirit of Berlioz's «Harold in Italy». Huber is careful not to let the fiddler become the star attraction - his part is well integrated into the orchestral fabric.

first movement is in two parts. First there is a 6 minute Allegretto tranquillo section also marked «pastorale». This is a bit of a misnomer because it isn't that tranquil - in fact one gets the impression that Huber is in a hurry to start the narrative because it begins with march-like figures as if he was walking purposely through the landscape, without enjoying it, to carry out some purpose. A quirky trumpet fanfare introduces the fiddler but the pace does not relax much and one imagines a sort of Korngold Sherwood Forest backdrop where there is conflict and hidden danger. The second part of this 21 minute movement is in the form of a theme and variations. This gives Huber the chance to take his fiddler over broad plains, through woods (complete with twittering birds etc), allows the fiddler to meet a jolly band of soldiers and apparently makes fun of them (by the sound of this interpretation) and to meet his 'beloved-to-be' to some florid, rather scented romantic music (often impressionistic in style); although their amours are interrupted by a violent storm. All the while, the fiddler (Hansheinz Schneeberger) makes the most of all the expressive opportunities presented by these scenarios.

The relatively shorter (8 minutes)
second movement, one assumes, is the song(s) that the fiddler plays in front of the statue of St Cecilia. The programme sheet at the première gave the title 'The fiddler's songs: Love and Sorrow for this movement. The third movement (16 minutes) is spectacular and the influence of Richard Strauss (particularly Till Eulenspiegel) is apparent. It commences as a march to the scaffold. The music suggests outraged Civic pride and the protestations of a perhaps not so innocent fiddler, then there is a quieter section as he persuades his captors to allow him to pay his last respects in the chapel. There follows a magnificent climax, with full organ, celebrating all the pomp of the Church as the second miracle occurs. The work ends quietly as the fiddler goes on his way.

This is a most interesting and engaging work which deserves to be better known. It receives a full-blooded and spontaneous performance form soloist and orchestra.

The other work in the programme is enchanting.
Huber's 'Summer Nights' Serenade is pleasant, relaxing, undemanding music. The first movement is ratherclassical/early Romantic in style. Mendelssohn comes to mind more than once. There is a rustic quality but also a feeling of national pride which is also evident in the finale. The scherzo second movement is fast very bright and untroubled; I had the mental picture of a romantic carriage and horse ride. I carried this imagery over into the Adagio third movement that is also marked Nocturne. Here I imagined the carriage stopping at some lovely vantage point as the lovers caressed under the moon and stars. This movement is dreamily romantic with some fine writing for horns and strings. The finale is a joyous celebration with dancing that reminds one of Liszt and Brahms in Hungarian mood.

A recording to discover and savour.

Ian Lace

(1898) [10.19]



Stuttgarter Philharmoniker
Jörg-Peter Weigle 

World Premiere Recordings
STERLING CDS-1022-2 [61.59]

Der Simplicius (1898): There are five Huber operas (six if you count the unfinished Der Gläserne Berg) of which Der Simplicius is the third. The overture is Mephistophelian - buzzing with whippy impetuosity. It will appeal to those who like Elgar's Froissart Overture and Smetana's symphonic poems Haakon Jarl and Richard III.

Eine Lustspiel-Ouverture (1879) is very attractive: calming but also with the slaloming vigour of Dvorak Symphonies 5 and 6 and Schumann's Rhenish Symphony.

The first and second movements of the
Böcklin Symphony blaze with activity inflamed by the same drive as those two Dvorák symphonies. When the fires burn on a lower pressure a honeyed Brahmsian tone tempers the Dvorakian element. The third movement adagio has a willowy fluency with pointillistic effects from harp and solo violin ending in the autumnal sunshine familiar from Brahms' Third Symphony. The finale is a free fantasy inspired by a gallery of paintings by Arnold Böcklin (yes, the same Böcklin whose Isle of the Dead inspired Rachmaninov and Max Reger's Four Böcklin Tone Poems.). The movement is, by turns, jaunty, passionate and butterfly textured. So airy is some of the orchestration that we are almost into Berlioz at his most impressionistic as in Symphonie Fantastique. Set off against this a Brahmsian gravitas. The performance is excellent - infused with flammable temperament and an impressive unanimity of attack. A welcome change from Dvorák 5 and 6. Do try it!

Rob Barnett