Secret Nights

Sonja Leutwyler | Astrid Leutwyler | Benjamin Engeli | Benjamin Nyffenegger

Photo: Shirley Suarez

Secret Nights – as this title already suggests, many a hidden ‘mystery’ of the concert repertoire will be uncovered on this new chamber music recording. Within the oeuvre of many famous composers, lieder (or songs) have been banned to a niche existence, even when they were plentiful. The sibling duo Sonja and Astrid Leutwyler (mezzo soprano and violin) and pianist Benjamin Engeli present their discoveries for their unusual instrumentation of vocals, violin, and piano. Cellist Benjamin Nyffenegger is a wonderful addition to the trio, and he joins in on the songs by Amy Beach and the piece «At Nighttime» by Arash Safaian. On the album Secret Night, well-known works are contrasted with rarities inspired by the mysteries inherent in night and nature.

Almost all composers wrote them, but, similar to private journals which were closeted away, lieder or songs often remained hidden in a drawer somewhere or were only performed in small intimate settings. Secret Nights explores this arguably most subjective of all musical formats. The pieces on this album span from the 19th century to our contempo-rary moment.

With his intimate expressiveness, Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) has left his mark on the Romantic period in music. He is represented with a small cycle of graceful love songs and a musical «forest greeting.»

Who has heard of American composer Amy Beach (1908-1944)? Today largely forgotten, she was the first American woman to compose a symphony, and a highly talented autodidact. Already at age 30, she was able to sing forty different melodies. Some of her works present on this album are «Three Browning Songs» and two pieces for soprano and piano.

The style of France’s Romantic period is apparent in the song «Le bonheur est chose légère» by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). A significantly less well-known composer is Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944), who counted Claude Debussy and Isaac Albéniz among her teachers. She became an integral part of the character pieces played in Parisian salons, and was celebrated as a concert pianist. Two of these pieces are re-interpreted on Secret Nights.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) is the younger sister of world-famous musical pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. She passed away at the young age of 24, after completing fifty compositions in her tragically short lifetime. Secret Nights pays homage to this artist with one of her sensitive nocturnes for violin and piano.

Prague composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) was persecuted by the Nazis for his political engagement. He was driven by a nearly manical creativity and played a crucial part in modernising music, being the first to combine Jazz, twelve-tone music, late Romanticism, and Dadaism. His extensive lied oeuvre was only recently published for the first time. Three of Schulhoff’s miniature-like atmospheric pictures are recorded on Secret Nights.

Arash Safaian (*1981) was born in Teheran and grew up in Bayreuth, where he came in early contact with Richard Wagner’s music. Today, he lives in Munich and composes film music, operas, and works for orchestra. Two songs structured along texts by the expressionist poet Else Lasker-Schüler enrich this CD’s program.

Many composers of the 20th century took on the role of protector of 19th century traditions. In this sense, Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck has left behind an impressive lied oeuvre, including a three-part homage to Heinrich Heine presented on this album, which takes the listener on a journey filled with Romanticist nature sentiment.

Sonja Leutwyler, mezzo soprano

Sonja Leutwyler studied viola and voice with Maria Cavazza, Christian Gerhard and Helmut Deutsch in Zurich and Munich. She sings the great parts of her discipline as a soloist in Munich, Bayreuth, Bologna, Zurich and Zagreb, performing with renown or-chestras like the Bamberger Symphoniker, Munich Rundfunkorchester, Artic Philharmonic Orchestra, Zurich and Stuttgart Chamber Orchestras and the SWR Symphonic Orchestra. She is a welcome guest at all international festivals and regularly performs at Tonhalle Zurich and Vienna Konzerthaus.

Astrid Leutwyler, violin

Astrid Leutwyler began her career as first concert master with the Bamberger Symphoniker, first violin with the Orchestra Mozart under the direction of Claudio Abbado. She was also a docent at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Stuttgart. Her engagements with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Munich Chamber Orchestra, and Balthasar-Neumann-Orchestra strengthened her interest in working with smaller ensembles. Early on, she began focusing on chamber music literature and rarely heard works. Creativity and a successful realization of projects characterize Astrid Leutwyler as a versatile artist.

Benjamin Engeli, piano

Benjamin Engeli studied cornet and piano at the music academy Basel. After receiving her teaching diploma, she enrolled at the Zurich Hochschule der Künste to continue studying with Homero Francesh until his graduation in the year 2003. Together with Esther Hoppe and Maximilian Hornung, he founded the Tecchler Trio, which in 2007 won the ARD music competition for piano trio. As a soloist, he played concerts with orchestras likes the Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. Numerous CD productions with works spanning compositions by Joseph Haydn or George Gershwin to the most contemporary music document his great stylistic spectrum.

Benjamin Nyffenegger, violoncello

Benjamin Nyffenegger studied with Walter Grimmer and Thomas Grossenbacher at the Hochschule der Künste Zurich, where he completed his studies with a concert diploma summa cum laude in 2005. In 2003, the chief conductor of Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, David Zinman, awarded him a stipend for the Aspen Festival and School. He has won prices at several national and international competitions and was crowned Argovia Artist of the year in 2007/2008. Benjami Nyffenegger is a regular guest at renown festivals and a much-sought after chamber music partner, among others of Julia Fischer, Oliver Schnyder, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Nils Mönkemeyer, and Vilde Frang. As a soloist, he as performed with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Chamber soloists Zurich, Argovia Philharmonics, Musikkollegium Winterthur, Leopolis Symphony Orchestra Lviv, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra and others. As a cellist, he is also part of the Julia Fischer Quartett.