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An interesting and overall rewarding releaseOct. 24 2011
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Format: Audio CD
Manfred Gurlitt (1890-1972) is probably best known as the guy who composed the opera Wozzeck to be overshadowed by Berg's opera shortly afterwards and an opera Die Soldaten to be overshadowed by Zimmermann's opera of the same name (and to complete the cycle of misfortune his opera Nana is generally considered to be overshadowed by Lulu). Both operas are, however, available (Nana isn't as far as I know) and I can strongly recommend Gurlitt's Wozzeck - a remarkable, effective and memorable opera by any standards, and who knows how it would have fared were it not for Berg's timeless masterpiece. Gurlitt's Wozzeck, despite its forward-looking and original elements, is firmly rooted in a late romantic language, however. His Goya symphony is far more modern-sounding (though I guess still essentially romantic and definitely tonal) and struck me on a purely phenomenological level to be more of a musical response to the paintings of Kokoschka or Max Beckmann than to the paintings of Goya.
Be that as it may, the Goya symphony (1938-39) is a big, four-movement work cast in an idiom not too far removed from an imagined mix between Mahler, Franz Schmidt and Hindemith. The gestures are bold and the music dramatic, but not overly lavish or romantic. The opening Allegro deciso ("La pradera de San Isidro") is confident and muscular and rhythmically craggy, big, dark and somewhat brooding, and ambiguously atmospheric. The second movement ("Popular Masquerade") is playful, but with plenty of sugar and slightly stale cream (intentionally so, it seems). The Largo ("Execution of the Rebels") is grim and acerbic and more dissonant than the previous movements, culminating (rather obviously) in a firing volley followed by three anvil blows. The final, substantial Theme and Variations is variegated and inventive, moving from the buoyant to the poetic to the angry and even raucous. It culminates in a disconcertingly bleak Maestoso followed by a faint, glimmering coda. Overall, this is indeed a substantial and rewarding work, though it is grittier and, ultimately, not quite on the level of his Wozzeck - though it deserves to be heard by fans of twentieth century music.
The four Dramatic Songs date from 1952. The style is again based in late romanticism, but the songs are deliberately less lush and perfumed than many late romantic orchestral songs. The mood is generally dark and bleak and the tonal language rather modern (but accessible), and despite the redemptive ending of the final song the experience is generally gloomy and darkly dramatic. The performances by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Antony Beaumont (plenty of drama, urgency, and color) are very good and Christiane Oelze is unsurprisingly a very effective soloist in the songs. While I do not want to claim that this disc will in any way change music history it is a rewarding one, and it is very much recommended to listeners with a sense of adventure (though be sure to check out Wozzeck first).