When I first heard this disc, I was unimpressed, finding the lyricism and orchestration unremarkable. Over time, however, it has grown on me to the point where I'd like to hear more by Woyrsch.
Make no mistake, this is SERIOUS music. Woyrsch appears to consider music an important calling and is not interested in cheap effects or showy tunes. There is a stern, but straightforward and honest, character to both these pieces which is both a strength and a weakness. Woyrsch keeps his materials strictly under control, which avoids the annoying excess one finds in, say Strauss. On the other hand, he also misses the wonderful sense of being carried aloft that etter composers get when they let their material free. This music is earthbound, but has the rugged appeal of a mountain--just not the grandeur of the Alps.
What does it sound like specifically, you ask? Well, the orchestration doesn't move past a Brahms orchestra, but this doesn't sound like Brahms to me because it eschews his warmth. I hear elements of Bruckner, Smetana and a VERY serious Mendelssohn although you'd never confuse Woyrsch with any of those composers. Generally, the music is slow and is comprised of fairly short motives which do not stretch one's imagination rhythmically. Woyrsch clearly appreciates Bach, because counterpoint plays a large part in this music which frequently veers off into fugato passages that I kept hoping would go on longer. There are also a LOT of echoes of Lutheran chorales in this music. There are some truly beautiful passages.
This is a disc for the adventurous which does repay on repeated hearings, but it probably isn't for everyone. The lack of lighter moods for contrast means on must be in the proper frame of mind to enjoy it. Still, it's nice to hear a composer who refuses to compose down to his audience.
The performances are OK, although I felt that the conductor and orchestra might have benefited with more familiarity with the music. MDG's sound is top-notch, however, as are the notes they provide. Woyrsch wrote seven symphonies, according to the notes. Perhaps MDG or another label will favor us with another disc. I'd be intrigued to hear if Felix ever felt less moody!!