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Weingartner: Symphony No. 6 - Letonja

Weingartner: Symphony No. 6 - Letonja

CPO  777 102-2

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Felix Weingartner: Symphony No. 6 Op. 74 "La Tragica", Frühling Op. 80

Sinfonieorchester Basel
Marko Letonja (conductor)


Weingartner’s Homage to Schubert

Felix Weingartner wrote his sixth symphony in 1928, the year during which the hundredth anniversary of Franz Schubert’s death was commemorated on the grand scale. Schubert had always been a fixed star for Weingartner, who more clearly (and earlier) than many others recognized the tragic side and greatness of this composer often misunderstood as an innocent, idyllic singer of songs. Weingartner once wrote of Schubert’s »tragic countenance in the sense of a child who has fallen from a higher world to our earth and cannot get along here and also cannot clearly recognize why he does not get along.« Weingartner’s tribute to Schubert came in the form of a symphony: »I saw Schubert solitarily striding along and looking down on his beloved native city with a painful expression: Have I showered you with my whole wealth that you would celebrate me in this way? – And then it began to sound. At first I did not know what it would turn out to be. Then it gradually took shape until it became a four-movement symphony.«

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Review by Graham Williams - April 24, 2009

This is the sixth volume in CPO’s valuable survey of Weingartner’s orchestral works, and juxtaposes his Sixth Symphony ‘La Tragica’ with the symphonic poem ‘Frühling’. A striking co-incidence is that the symphony shares its number, key and even opus number with that Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony, but here the similarities end for it is the spirit of Schubert that inspired this work, which is why it also bears the subtitle 'in Gedenken des 19. November 1828', the date of Schubert’s death.

In 1927, prior to the Schubert centennial year, an international competition was announced for composers from around the world to complete Schubert's’ Unfinished’ Symphony. Later the entry rules of this competition were sensibly altered to allow the submission of original works rather than a completion of Schubert. The organizers eventually decided that these should be 'symphonic works in one or more movements, presented as an apotheosis of the lyrical genius of Schubert'. The distinguished artistic advisory panels worldwide included Ravel, Thomas Beecham, Respighi, Rachmaninov, Mengelberg and Weingartner himself. His appointment to one of these panels meant that he was ineligible to enter the competition, whose eventual winner was the 6th symphony of Kurt Atterberg. The competition probably acted as a catalyst for Weingartner who had already sketched his ideas for a ‘homage symphony’ to Schubert, and on completion it was premiered in Basel in1929.

The four-movement work begins with a long breathed, lamenting and haunting melody embodying something of the character of a funeral cortège, and the strings of the Basel Sinfonieorchester unfold it most beautifully. Two-thirds into the movement (at 7’38”) a new more heroic theme is introduced by the horns and woodwind and briefly developed before a return to the sombre opening. The second movement (Allegro un poco grave) is apparently based on sketches for the scherzo of Schubert’s unfinished B minor symphony. The first couple of bars suggest Bruckner, but with the perky oboe entry Weingartner takes us entirely into Schubert’s world. The contrasting trio section, with its clarinet solo, would have benefited from a slightly faster tempo, but overall this delightful Schubert pastiche is winningly executed. The theme of the tender ‘Adagio’ again brings the melodic richness of one of Bruckner’s slow movements to mind, and is expounded by Marko Letonja and his splendid orchestra with great eloquence. The finale (Vivace) is an energetic tarantella that only rarely pauses for breath throughout its carefree eleven minutes.

There are no longeurs to be found in this engaging symphony, and its attractive melodic invention and immediate appeal make it astonishing that it has remained virtually unknown and neglected for the past eighty years.

The Symphonic Poem ‘Frühling’ (18’49”) was written at the time of the break-up of Weingartner’s fourth marriage to Roxo Betty and his subsequent infatuation with the 25 year-old Carmen Studer who subsequently became the fifth Frau Weingartner in 1931. Its full title is ‘Symphonic Poem in the Form of Variations for Orchestra’ and is written in Weingartner’s typical late-romantic style that must have seemed quite anachronistic at the time of its premiere, but shows his undoubted orchestral mastery. Within its variation form there are a number of contrasting moods; a stormy allegro early on giving way to an evocation of the title by introducing the calls of the cuckoo and other birds in a Scriabin-like idyll. The emergence of a short fugue leads into a rapturous waltz, recalling Strauss (both Richard and Johann II), before a return to the earlier music and a cheerfully buoyant ending. As in the symphony, Marko Letonja and the orchestra show a complete affinity with this music and give as imaginative a performance as one could wish.

The 5.0 recording, a co-production between CPO and Swiss Radio DRS 2 made in the Musiksaal of the Casino Basel, is rich and spacious, although a couple of times there was a shrillness imparted to the upper strings when they were playing loudly, but in general the sound is the equal of that to be found on the earlier issues. The usual discursive booklet essay by Eckhardt van den Hoogen is difficult to plough through, but does provide interesting background information for the listener with the patience to try.

Those who enjoyed the first five Weingartner SACDs will certainly wish to acquire this one. Others will find this issue a good starting point to explore the music of this prolific conductor/composer.

Very highly recommended.

Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by Mark Novak - July 17, 2009

Castor's review describes the music well so I won't re-plow that ground. I have enjoyed this series of recordings and this latest volume continues the generally high performance standards set in the earlier releases. Weingartner's style is late-romantic - much in the way of Lizst's and R. Strauss's tone poems and Raff's symphonies. It is well-crafted music that creates a pleasant and occaisionally exciting listen but in the end is not very memorable. Hey - you can only listen to Beethoven so much and then you break out the Weingartner.

For me, the prize on this release is the tone poem. This is a brooding and dynamic piece that, at first, belies its title of "Spring" (it begins more like a spring thunderstorm rolling into town). It reminds me a lot of Liszt's best tone poems - it was a very enjoyable 18+ minutes. The symphony is in the same vein as his others though this one is a bit shorter in length. I had fun listening to it though I could not hum any melodies from it several days later. However, I am a sucker for this type of release. I have many recordings of the standard repertoire and these days I am mostly looking for things off the beaten path. This SACD fits that to a tee.

Sonically, this one is just OK (I listen in stereo). The overall sound is a bit opaque and dense to my ears on my system. This by no means should detract one from exploring this release. Recommended.

Copyright © 2009 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

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