Max Kuhn, one of Switzerland's most important 20th Century composers was born in Zürich in April 1896 – the year of Bruckner's death and a year before Brahms' demise. He lived almost the whole of his 98 years in and around the city, and after his school education he studied the piano and organ.
In 1920 he entered the Conservatory falling under the influence of Ferruccio Busoni. With the latter's friends and pupils, he studied composition, counterpoint and conducting. From 1921 to 1926, he furthered his musical education in Vienna. On his return to Switzerland he became organist and choir director at the Catholic Church in Kusnacht near Zürich. Throughout his long life, he was a renowned teacher and composer, and also founded the Zürich Chamber Choir and the Mozart Society of Zürich.
His wide ranging oeuvre includes operas, small piano pieces, organ works, chamber music and also a substantial number of songs. Kuhn's musical language can be split up into 2 parts, prior to 1921, when many of his works were built on the traditional influences (Bach and Schubert come to mind), and post 1921, when the works of the Impressionists and the Second Viennese School started to leave their mark in Kuhn's treatment of harmony and technique.
The 11 songs recorded here are mostly undated, but it is presumed that they were written between the 20's and the 50's. Their range of expression is strangely post-romantic, and modern influences abound, but their dramatic strength and intensity is never weakened. The 4 instrumental pieces on this programme were written between 1959 and 1976. The Introduction and Allegro for Oboe and Piano and the Oboe Solo Suite date from 1959 and 1965 respectively. The 3 Klavierstücke and 3 Piano Preludes are 13 years apart (1963-1976). Concise and chromatic, these great little pieces are full of pungent sounds and nervous urgency so typical of the music being written during the second half of the 20th century.
Jeanette Ager sings with great conviction, and her superb mezzo voice, together with her accuracy of pitch and beauty of phrasing characterises her enterprising approach to these songs. John Andersen and Sophia Rahman have to face a considerable array of technical complexities, but both rise undaunted to the occasion with brilliant dexterity.
An excellent starting point, if you want to commence your journey into this still mostly undiscovered corner of Europe's musical heritage.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech