24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
A K Howe
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The issue of this CD marks the end of Jörg-Peter Weigle's cpo cycle of the symphonies by Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). And, all in all, it has proved a triumph, for Weigle and his pioneering German recording company cpo have now proved what a small number of experts and enthusiasts have long suspected: that Draeseke is the most important neglected nineteenth-century symphonist, and a composer of a stature equal with that of Brahms (who regarded him as his keenest rival)and Bruckner.
Draeseke's greatest symphony is undoubtedly his third, the 'Tragica', completed in 1886. Indeed, it is worthy to be ranked with the greatest symphonic creations of its time. The CD under consideration here, however, presents us with the first and last of his symphonies, dating respectively from 1868-72 and 1912. So what are they like, and how do they rank within the overall symphonic canon?
Symphony No.1, it must be remembered, predates the symphonies of Brahms and all those of Bruckner from No.3. When heard in its historical context, therefore, it emerges as a quite extraordinary achievement - at least the equal in quality of, say, Bruckner's second symphony. Furthermore, its slow movement is quite possibly the greatest of its kind between that of Schumann's second and Bruckner's seventh.
In trying to characterise the music, one thing is very obvious: this is emphatically not music of the conservative stamp of Brahms. Indeed, although still attached to the classical forms (symphony, concerto, etc.), Draeseke poured into them music which was clearly influenced by the New German School of Wagner and Liszt. Thus there is a harmonic daring, richness and even astringency which is quite different from the procedures of Brahms. In fact, when one has listened extensively to Draeseke, one simply recognises a new, original voice - and one which has been scandalously neglected and, when heard, misunderstood.
The fourth symphony, the 'Comica' is a late work - the master production of a master composer in his final year. It is almost an ironic signing-off of a tradition which was fading, as newer compositional currents (Richard Strauss, Max Reger, etc.) were coming to the fore. It is not a great work, but it is the work of a great composer - and how that composer had moved on harmonically over the course of his long life!
Finally, the CD also contains the overture to Draeseke's opera 'Gudrun'. This proves a wise choice on cpo's part because if ever a piece were designed to show off Draeseke's abilities, this is it. It has mystery, drama, power and a superb command of the orchestra.
Music-lovers everywhere should snap up this wonderful new recording while they can. And then they should investigate the other two CDs in the cpo cycle. Sell your shirt and buy the complete cycle: you will then be in possession of a symphonic cycle to rival the greatest of the nineteenth century!
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Felix Draeseke’s music seems to divide critics, and in a somewhat curious manner – some critics warm to certain of his works and dismiss precisely the other works that other critics find to be revelatory. I can sort of understand why. The music seems at one point firmly rooted in tradition (Schumann and Weber, but also Liszt); at the next it is rather forward-looking, toward German late romanticism. And it is often surprisingly reluctant to yield its goods – the style strikes one as the kind that should be rather instantly appealing, yet it often turns out to be quite elusive (partially because little of the music relies on any particularly strong themes or melodic material, I suppose).
And then again, it is little doubt that the music is of variable quality; the fourth symphony is a fine work, but elusive enough to require a bit of work on the part of the listener. Apply the same efforts to the other works here, and I, at least, have thus far failed to come up with very significant returns. The overture to Gudrun, in particular, is boring – true, the final climax is effective, but to get there you have to endure some nine minutes of uneventful note spinning (I don’t expect to hear the whole opera, but the overture doesn’t make me feel that I am missing anything either). Then there is the first symphony, a flawed and ultimately barely worthwhile work on a grand scale. The outer movements, which stylistically sound a bit like a combination of Schumann and late Schubert, exhibit solid craftsmanship but little by way of inspiration – they are not horrible, by any means, but neither to they rise above tons of similar music from Draeseke’s contemporaries – and the slow movement is on the dull side. The humorous, glittering Scherzo, however, is worth getting to know.
But the fourth symphony is rather fine. Joyful, buoyant and brief (20 minutes overall) it is a deftly composed work of genuine humor (the “War of the Flies” movement perhaps in particular), brilliantly scored – but the humor isn’t as obvious as one might expect, and I, at least, needed to give the work several tries before it all made sense. It is in no way a timeless masterpiece, partially because of the drawback that characterizes most of the music here – the lack of any very interesting thematic material.
So overall this disc’s musical rewards are variable. What is never in question, however, is the quality of the performances. The NDR Radiophilharmonie plays with spirit, with, panache and glittering colors under Jörg-Peter Weigle. Indeed, I doubt one could reasonably expect a better case to be made for this music, and CPO provides a very fine recorded sound. As such, this disc ultimately deserves to be heard by those with an interest in German romanticism – but I am not sure that one would miss much if one gave it a pass either; the fourth symphony is certainly worth hearing, even recommended listening, but I suppose those interested in the composer should turn first to his most successful work, the third symphony.