Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) was a conservative Berlin composer initially influenced by Schumann and later by Brahms. He was in conflict with the Wagnerism of his day. He was also influenced by the eminent Bach scholar Philipp Spitta. He wrote eight symphonies. The first he wrote, not numbered but subtitled 'Odysseus', was early. The symphonies heard here, Nos. 1 and 2, weren't written until he was in his forties. He also wrote five other unpublished symphonies about which I know nothing except to suspect they were early attempts to master symphonic form and orchestration. One hopes though, on the basis of the present recording, that they are later works and of a piece with the two heard here; if so, I'd strongly urge cpo, whose efforts in recording unknown works of central European composers of the late Romantic period are admirable, to dig them up and give them a go.
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 50, is a fully-formed, mature symphony which has some points of reference to Brahms's own first symphony including its key signature. But it soon becomes clear that this is an individual voice, one that strays from the Brahmsian mold frequently. This is most evident in such things as the almost light-hearted third movement which seems to look forward to Bruckner scherzi without the sometimes leaden galumphing of the latter composer. The second movement Adagio is notable for its noble themes, including a particularly engaging second theme consisting primarily of brass fanfares, played beautifully here by the NDR Philharmonic under Frank Beermann. Brahms's influence is most apparent in the outer movements in which appealing themes are handled in an almost classical manner. The finale ends triumphantly in a blaze of brass chords decorated with glinting string and woodwind.
More assured and probably worthier of inclusion at the edges of modern symphonic repertoire is the masterful Second Symphony, written three or four years after the First. It opens with a bucolic horn call that seems to set the stage for something like 'Nature Awakes' or 'Pleasant Countryside'. Thematic material is particularly memorable and both the first and very long second theme are subjected to a truly classical working out. The Andante quasi Allegretto combines two lyrically effusive themes each of which has slow triplet phrases which help make them combine easily for a beautiful effect. The Scherzo begins with a bustling low string and timpani theme that has the feel of a high-spirited peasant dance. This is a modified variation movement that goes through a number of seemingly disparate influences including some oriental pentatonics. There is a passage dominated by a slow trumpet tune primarily outlining the movement's basic harmonies, a striking touch. This movement is absolutely nothing like either Brahms or Schubert but in Herzogenberg's own unique voice. The finale initially seems like a continuation of the Scherzo but soon develops a very rich orchestration with much filigree and rushing wind and string figures. This seems an advance on anything that has occurred earlier and demonstrates that Herzogenberg has achieved true mastery of long-form orchestral composition. These last two movements are the crowning glory of the whole CD and are themselves alone worth its price. When I first heard this symphony I kept going back to these two movements, marveling at their charm and strength.
For anyone who loves music from the late nineteenth century Austro-German orchestral repertoire this issue is worth investigating.