Nestled in between Switzerland and Austria—two of Europe's hottest spots for music—the principality of Liechtenstein takes influence from its Germanic neighbors to the north and south when it comes to what is apparently a bustling new music scene.
For a quasi-country roughly the size of Washington, D.C., the Continuum – Förderverein für Komponisten (or Society for the Furtherance of Composers, according to label site Carus) proves that their country has much to offer. Symphony at Night shows off the works of three local composers—Marco Schädler, Matthias Frommelt and Jürg Hanselmann—each reveling in the Liechtenstein-ian balance of standard and modern, calm lyrical lines and pulsating staccatos.
A standout track is the opener: Schädler's tone poem, Nachtschicht (Night shift) quite literally takes his native landscape into sonic perspective, creating jagged and protective peaks with horns, cascading down their ravines with drums, evoking the flowing Rhine with violins and flutes and using the orchestral palette to create a dreamy setting of an Alpine idyll that calls to mind Strauss's Alpensinfonie, Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht or Webern's Im Sommerwind.
Swiss-born and Viennese-trained Matthias Frommelt picks up the line with a trio of shorter works. Nocturne moves on a similar, albeit more tonal, path as that of the Schädler, while Turbulenz takes on the expressive repetition of John Adams and Philip Glass before stretching into a cinematic and tango-infused musical discourse on what the composer calls "the blows of fate." Most charming of Frommelt's pieces is the six-minute twirl through Ohne Namen, which features a heady and almost hedonistic dance movement in the middle that makes for some seductive summer listening.
More virtuous is Jürg Hanselmann's closing track, Dies Irae Variationen. As the name implies, it riffs on the Gregorian chant sequence, combining orchestra with a solo for two pianos that at times seems to evoke Stravinsky's "Spring Rounds" tempered with the pianistic showmanship of bicentennial boy Franz Liszt. Underneath the showmanship of the featured instrument, however, is a pure and even toned orchestral line that roots this piece in the wholly natural plainchant tradition from which it derives its inspiration.
Equally entrancing on this disc are the ensembles native to Liecthenstein: Its national symphony orchestra factors into Nacthschicht, Turbulenz and Dies Irae Variationen under the batons of Albert Frommelt and William Maxfield and Frommelt again (respectively), both times casting an earthy spell on the works. Hanselmann himself, along with his wife Sandra, take to the ivories in Dies Irae. Under Benjamin Lack, the Sinfonietta Vorarlberg plays the two smaller Frommelt works with equal aplomb. If this is indicative of Liechtenstein's music scene on the whole, a short-notice summer vacation may be in order.