Guild Recordings is a good source for obscure composers overlooked by major recording companies. Their series on Rebecca Clarke was an eye-opener, sparking a revival of the British composer’s much underrated music. Here they return to another speciality, Swiss music.
Johann Carl Eschmann was born in Winterthur. He studied music in Leipzig, for a short time getting lessons from Mendelssohn himself. He spent the rest of his life teaching and playing music in the Zürich area. While playing for the Allgemeinen Musik-Gesellschaft Zürich, he came into contact with no less than Richard Wagner, who conducted the ensemble. Wagner’s arrangement for the fifth of his Wesendonck songs for solo violin and orchestra was inscribed in Eschmann’s honour.
Let us not think though, that the association with Wagner led to any great music on Eschmann’s part. These songs are a vignette into what was heard in cultivated music circles of the time. Eschmann has a gift for a lyrical melodic line, underpinned by a strong piano part. They must be a pleasure to perform, for they are unfussy, yet harmonious, and need no special virtuoso skills.
The first two songs, to poems by "Pauline E", possibly a relative of the composer, have a certain honest, homely charm. When Eschmann sets a major poet like Eichendorff, he tends to follow the line of text with minimal accompaniment. These poems are Eichendorff at his more pietist, safe homilies about God and virtue. Eschmann has the sense not to overpower them with fancy effects. They come across as very minor Schumann, or Mendelssohn: nothing to frighten the horses, but enough to enjoy in the confines of a middle class salon.
More unusual are the settings of August Corrodi (1826-1885), a Swiss poet, artist and translator (into Swiss-German) of other European poetry. Here we have no less than fourteen poems by Corrodi, each one strophic, extolling simple Romantic virtues of nature, love and goodwill. This is nineteenth century music at its most intimate, music by one friend to poems by another. Presumably they were performed among friends, as well. Eschmann sometimes nods to Schubert or Loewe, as in Irrlicht where two lovers get lost in a dark wood but are sucked into a bog and killed before they can escape. What frisson that long ago singer must have mustered, to the delight of his companions! In Mittags, Eschmann attempts a more complex, rolling accompaniment, to describe the fresh mountain stream that he follows while walking down from the mountains.