If there ever was a classical 'one-hit wonder' it's Emil von Reznicek, whose 'Donna Diana' Overture is the only thing of his that the ordinary classical music lover knows. But there seems to be a burgeoning of interest in his other works spearheaded by recent recordings on the cpo label. This is the fifth of cpo's releases of his music that I have reviewed and it becomes more and more a mystery why his music has lapsed into obscurity. I suppose there are some reasons that are easy to discover: he came along a bit late in the post-romantic era, wrote music very similar to and possibly less attractive than that of Strauss (whom he satirized wickedly in his 'Der Sieger' tone poem), he lived on into the expressionist era of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, and he was an odd man whose quirky interpersonal style puzzled some, angered others. Plus, he had a very strange sense of humor which often didn't go down well. Still, he wrote some glorious music and I strongly recommend the recordings not only of his tone poems 'Schlemihl' and 'Der Sieger' but the complete opera 'Donna Diana.' Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek: Schlemihl; Raskolnikoff, Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek: Der Sieger, Reznicek: Donna Diana.
This CD includes a couple of almost completely unknown orchestral works, plus his occasionally played 'Lustspiel-Ouvertüre'. It also includes a couple of tracks -- 'Lustpiel-Ouvertüre' and 'Donna Diana Ouvertüre' -- conducted by Reznicek himself, recorded in 1922. These latter are of only minor interest, actually, not least because the recorded sound is primitive at best. Still, they ARE conducted by the composer and I suppose there is something in that.
The CD starts off with the light-hearted Lustspiel overture which is musically surely the equal of his popular Donna Diana overture. It is given a marvelous performance, as are the other works, by Michail Jurowski and WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne
The two big pieces here are two sets of variations. The first is his 'Theme and Variations after a Tragedy by von Chamisso', the second a set of variations on the Kol Nidre melody, a fixture of the Yom Kippur ritual of pious Jews.
The twenty-minute-long Chamisso Variations are a perfect example of Reznicek's orchestral and compositional mastery coupled with his odd sense of humor. Indeed, the humor of the Chamisso poem escapes me completely. It is something about a man who wishes his pigtail didn't hang down his back. The other odd thing here is that after a perfectly marvelous set of variations on a theme, the last variation includes a basso -- here the excellent Alexander Vasiliev -- singing the Chamisso verses. But this is similar to the last minute vocal parts of both Der Sieger and Schlemihl, so I suppose there is some sort of symmetry. Still, the idiotic text and the brevity of the vocal contribution make it seem unnecessary somehow. Nonetheless, I can recommend the Chamisso Variations as exemplars of Reznicek's orchestral craft and his melodic fecundity.
The twenty-five-minute-long Kol Nidre Variations is a completely serious orchestral work that nonetheless may possibly have had an anti-Semitic origin as a pentimento to Reznicek's vaguely anti-Semitic opera 'Holofernes'. The booklet notes by Reznicek scholar Eckhardt van den Hoogen don't make that clear. But the music qua music is simply marvelous and listened to without any concern about its possibly squalid origin confirms that this is Reznicek at the top of his game.
I would not suggest that this CD is the place to start exploring Reznicek's oeuvre, rather suggesting either 'Der Sieger' or 'Schlemihl' as a jumping-off place, but for those who are somewhat familiar with Reznicek's other orchestral works, this issue is self-recommending.