This disc has been very thoughtfully edited. For one thing, the six pieces comprising the Lady in the Dark suite are played without intervening pauses (although there are separate tracks), which is as it should be, like a band playing half a dozen numbers in succession on a bandstand. What is far more important, and very intelligent too, is sequencing the second symphony before the first. The first symphony dates from 1921, the second from 1933/4, and the ‘symphonic nocturne’ (what’s one of them?) Lady in the Dark from 1940. If the works had been presented in straight order of composition it would have been very easy to form the impression that Weill’s musical idiom was a backward-running process. The first symphony was a work he never acknowledged by that title. It comes from early in his course in composition with Busoni, and I read with great interest that he was the youngest member to be accepted, at age 20 in the year 1920, into that class, when in the very same year Busoni had refused to take on the 17-year-old Serkin as a piano pupil on the grounds that he was too old. In style this first symphony is very assured, its idiom hovering somewhere in the region of Honegger and Hindemith. It is in one movement, and a good deal longer than the most famous contemporary 1-movement symphony, the 7th of Sibelius. The second symphony is in a more normal 3-movement format, and it makes odd listening to the extent that its idiom seems to become more conservative as it goes along. The opening movement is not too far removed in style from the first symphony, but we have not got far into the long central slow movement before we hear a bassoon solo that is the Weill we know, followed later by some familiar-sounding brass writing and leading to a placid tonal conclusion. As for the Lady in the Dark, a collaboration with Ira Gershwin is not where one would expect to find modern harmonisation, and the Weill of the Threepenny Opera is with us once more.
I found the whole experience utterly intriguing. Weill’s second symphony was composed in Paris to commission after he fled the new regime of gangsters in Germany. It seems to have had a dim reception and then to have been palely loitering unperformed for several decades. I for one had never heard it until I bought this disc, and I think it is something that would get me to bestir myself out to a concert if I saw it scheduled. Indeed I think the first symphony might well do that too. What its composer really thought of it I don’t know, but it doesn’t have any apprentice feel to it, and its single fantasia-like movement is nearly as long as the three movements of the second added up. Weill in his symphonic guise, particularly his early symphonic guise, is not entirely the man we might expect from the familiar stuff, but the genius and originality are still there. His second symphony is a far more serious bit of work than are the symphonies of Weber, but I felt all the same that it stands in some similar relation to the heavier masterpieces of its period, the symphonies of Mahler, Sibelius and Elgar, as Weber’s do to Beethoven’s.
If the symphonies are a journey of discovery, the Lady in the Dark (about psychoanalysis apparently) is definitely for Weill’s fans, of whom I am one. The performances here strike me as just right, with the proper (or improper) seedy tone to them. The Bournemouth Symphony have been a fine orchestra for quite a long time now, at least since Silvestri’s day, and Marin Alsop has been steadily advancing in recognition for a number of years too. The recording is very recent, just last year, and while it’s not spectacular it is perfectly good by any rational standard. We are given here an hour and a quarter of absolutely fascinating music superbly realised, and even the liner-note, which comes with a German translation, is far better than many I see from the more traditional recording concerns. My notices of Naxos production tend to finish, or begin, or both, with a panegyric to that fine company and its collaborators, and this one follows the tradition. Long may things be this way.