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Draeseke: Symphonies 1 & 4; Gudrun Overture CD

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Orchestra: North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Jörg-Peter Weigle
  • Composer: Felix Draeseke
  • Audio CD (3 Oct. 2005)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Cpo
  • ASIN: B000AMMSP8
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 539,634 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist (Sample)
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5
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6
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5:58
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By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAME on 3 Oct. 2005
Format: Audio CD
Among the also-rans of the late 19th century was Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). He began as an acolyte of Wagner, wound up moving more towards the Brahmsian camp. His First Symphony retains fingerprints of both those composers, but one can clearly hear him moving more towards the classicist approach of Brahms. Aside from the retention of some pretty hair-raising Wagnerish modulations, the style of the symphony is certainly Brahmsian. The First Symphony, although not Draeseke's first effort at a symphony, has more than its share of awkwardness. The first movement makes use of seemingly unending sequences, strange voice-leading, idiosyncratic harmonies. It and its subsequent movements are also marked by uninspired melody writing. The almost elfin Scherzo is the most winning of the four movements and in its day even had a life as a stand-alone piece, being published on its own. The rather tentative playing of the NDR Symphony in this symphony does not help the work make its case.
The 1912 Fourth Symphony (written when Draeseke was seventy-seven) is subtitled 'Symphony Comica' for reasons that escape me; it is presumably a counterbalance to the Third Symphony, the 'Symphonia Tragica' of 1886. The comedy here is lumpish at best; perhaps it's simply Teutonic humor, and indeed there are some echoes of 'Meistersinger' in its counterpoint at the service of good humor. But it misses the mark by rather a large margin. Again, there is a paucity of memorable melodic material, but the working-out is a good deal more seamless than in the first symphony.
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Format: Audio CD
The issue of this CD marks the end of Jörg-Peter Weigle's cpo cycle of the symphonies by Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). And, all in all, it has proved a triumph, for Weigle and his pioneering German recording company cpo have now proved what a small number of experts and enthusiasts have long suspected: that Draeseke is the most important neglected nineteenth-century symphonist, and a composer of a stature equal with that of Brahms (who regarded him as his keenest rival)and Bruckner.
Draeseke's greatest symphony is undoubtedly his third, the 'Tragica', completed in 1886. Indeed, it is worthy to be ranked with the greatest symphonic creations of its time. The CD under consideration here, however, presents us with the first and last of his symphonies, dating respectively from 1868-72 and 1912. So what are they like, and how do they rank within the overall symphonic canon?
Symphony No.1, it must be remembered, predates the symphonies of Brahms and all those of Bruckner from No.3. When heard in its historical context, therefore, it emerges as a quite extraordinary achievement - at least the equal in quality of, say, Bruckner's second symphony. Furthermore, its slow movement is quite possibly the greatest of its kind between that of Schumann's second and Bruckner's seventh.
In trying to characterise the music, one thing is very obvious: this is emphatically not music of the conservative stamp of Brahms. Indeed, although still attached to the classical forms (symphony, concerto, etc.), Draeseke poured into them music which was clearly influenced by the New German School of Wagner and Liszt. Thus there is a harmonic daring, richness and even astringency which is quite different from the procedures of Brahms.
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As I've worked my way through CPO's three volume cycle of Draeseke's orchestral music, I've found my responses to his music distinctly mixed; the two discs I have already reviewed contained his second and third symphonies* and bore witness to a singular compositional voice, if not one that I have found entirely convincing (or even, at times, that likeable or memorable). This final review encompasses the two works with which he opened and closed his symphonic career, although there apparently was a no-longer-extant symphony that preceded the `official' first symphony recorded here; they are separated from each other by several decades.

The two middle symphonies, to my ears, have a rather doggedly-pursued earnestness to them and the first one is no exception to that Draesekean stylistic fingerprint either; I'm inclined to agree with the reviewer, Scott Morrison, that there is a awkwardness to much of this work's ungainly progress; it sounds like an apprentice work but without the freshness of invention that you might expect in a relatively young or inexperienced composer. It is partially redeemed by its two inner movements - a scherzo that starts off sounding Mendelssohnian but which develops a startling vigour and wanders down some surprising (and very engaging) paths as it proceeds; and an eloquently expressive `adagio' that provides a period of repose within Draeseke's busily expressed symphonic journey. Both movements display, I think, a fine balance of form and content with melodic writing that stands head-and-shoulders above the music that surrounds them.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x92f8d00c) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93c36a50) out of 5 stars CPO Draeseke cycle now complete 8 Dec. 2005
By Alan Howe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The issue of this CD marks the end of Jörg-Peter Weigle's cpo cycle of the symphonies by Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). And, all in all, it has proved a triumph, for Weigle and his pioneering German recording company cpo have now proved what a small number of experts and enthusiasts have long suspected: that Draeseke is the most important neglected nineteenth-century symphonist, and a composer of a stature equal with that of Brahms (who regarded him as his keenest rival)and Bruckner.

Draeseke's greatest symphony is undoubtedly his third, the 'Tragica', completed in 1886. Indeed, it is worthy to be ranked with the greatest symphonic creations of its time. The CD under consideration here, however, presents us with the first and last of his symphonies, dating respectively from 1868-72 and 1912. So what are they like, and how do they rank within the overall symphonic canon?

Symphony No.1, it must be remembered, predates the symphonies of Brahms and all those of Bruckner from No.3. When heard in its historical context, therefore, it emerges as a quite extraordinary achievement - at least the equal in quality of, say, Bruckner's second symphony. Furthermore, its slow movement is quite possibly the greatest of its kind between that of Schumann's second and Bruckner's seventh.

In trying to characterise the music, one thing is very obvious: this is emphatically not music of the conservative stamp of Brahms. Indeed, although still attached to the classical forms (symphony, concerto, etc.), Draeseke poured into them music which was clearly influenced by the New German School of Wagner and Liszt. Thus there is a harmonic daring, richness and even astringency which is quite different from the procedures of Brahms. In fact, when one has listened extensively to Draeseke, one simply recognises a new, original voice - and one which has been scandalously neglected and, when heard, misunderstood.

The fourth symphony, the 'Comica' is a late work - the master production of a master composer in his final year. It is almost an ironic signing-off of a tradition which was fading, as newer compositional currents (Richard Strauss, Max Reger, etc.) were coming to the fore. It is not a great work, but it is the work of a great composer - and how that composer had moved on harmonically over the course of his long life!

Finally, the CD also contains the overture to Draeseke's opera 'Gudrun'. This proves a wise choice on cpo's part because if ever a piece were designed to show off Draeseke's abilities, this is it. It has mystery, drama, power and a superb command of the orchestra.

Music-lovers everywhere should snap up this wonderful new recording while they can. And then they should investigate the other two CDs in the cpo cycle. Sell your shirt and buy the complete cycle: you will then be in possession of a symphonic cycle to rival the greatest of the nineteenth century!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93c36aa4) out of 5 stars When the choice is one, you have no choice 26 April 2013
By Jurgen Lawrenz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This disc labours under two disadvantages that must be pointed out to prospective buyers, especially those who have very scant notions on who Draeseke was and what he represents in the music of the 19th century.
First: The composer was not conspicuously gifted as far a melodic invention is concerned. This would be an automatic liability for any listener who expects a resemblance to (say) Brahms or Schumann. Draeseke's real forte was the invention of strong themes suitable for development in the Beethovenian sense, and are also malleable for strict counterpoint, at which he was very good. But this conflicts with his evident late romantic harmonic diction, powerfully influenced by Liszt and Wagner (whose camp follower he was for many years). In consequence there is a clearly discernible rift which (unlike Brahms) he never properly overcame. The fugues and canons and sundry other exercises tend to sound messy; and his symphonic developments sometimes begin to creak, when he runs out of ideas and resorts to padding. The symphonies on this disc show both liabilities: The first suffers from the incoherence of some of the melodic material that he spins out of a not-quite-suitable thematic content and becomes tiresome from its undue repetitiveness. The last is some kind of wordless comedy, which in the comparison with its model (probably Beethoven 8) seems clumsy and cumbersome, not to say oafish in one movement where the "humour" is turned on. Neither of these symphonies are a patch on what was obviously his peak effort, the 3rd Symphony.
The other liability is the lack of a performance tradition. The symphonies have been all but silent for 70 years, and Weigle had basically to find his own way in an idiom with which he could hardly be familiar since the last conductors who still had some acquaintance with Draeseke (Furtwängler, Schuricht et al) were all dead before he matured as an artist. I don't envy him; but by the same token, not all the faults I detect in Draeseke's constructions are definitely the composer's. Some of them are definitely attributable to Weigle being at a loss on how to pace a section or what importance in the strands he needs to apportion to simultaneous voices. As I said in my review of Symphony 3: what wouldn't I give to have Karajan or Szell take one of these works in hand! Alas.
On both counts I am underwhelmed by this issue. Draeseke does not communicate a very favourable image of his creativity in these works and the performances lack (perhaps precisely for that reason) real conviction. Comparing them with the Overture or the Funeral March which fill up Weigle's other disc make me wonder indeed how successful and ultimately convincing they are in comparison.
However, I've also owned the Wuppertal recording of No. 1, and it is no improvement. So you basically have little choice if you wish to have this music in your collection.
HASH(0x93c36edc) out of 5 stars Well-played, moderately appealing but ultimately rather unmemorable music 17 April 2014
By G.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Felix Draeseke’s music seems to divide critics, and in a somewhat curious manner – some critics warm to certain of his works and dismiss precisely the other works that other critics find to be revelatory. I can sort of understand why. The music seems at one point firmly rooted in tradition (Schumann and Weber, but also Liszt); at the next it is rather forward-looking, toward German late romanticism. And it is often surprisingly reluctant to yield its goods – the style strikes one as the kind that should be rather instantly appealing, yet it often turns out to be quite elusive (partially because little of the music relies on any particularly strong themes or melodic material, I suppose).

And then again, it is little doubt that the music is of variable quality; the fourth symphony is a fine work, but elusive enough to require a bit of work on the part of the listener. Apply the same efforts to the other works here, and I, at least, have thus far failed to come up with very significant returns. The overture to Gudrun, in particular, is boring – true, the final climax is effective, but to get there you have to endure some nine minutes of uneventful note spinning (I don’t expect to hear the whole opera, but the overture doesn’t make me feel that I am missing anything either). Then there is the first symphony, a flawed and ultimately barely worthwhile work on a grand scale. The outer movements, which stylistically sound a bit like a combination of Schumann and late Schubert, exhibit solid craftsmanship but little by way of inspiration – they are not horrible, by any means, but neither to they rise above tons of similar music from Draeseke’s contemporaries – and the slow movement is on the dull side. The humorous, glittering Scherzo, however, is worth getting to know.

But the fourth symphony is rather fine. Joyful, buoyant and brief (20 minutes overall) it is a deftly composed work of genuine humor (the “War of the Flies” movement perhaps in particular), brilliantly scored – but the humor isn’t as obvious as one might expect, and I, at least, needed to give the work several tries before it all made sense. It is in no way a timeless masterpiece, partially because of the drawback that characterizes most of the music here – the lack of any very interesting thematic material.

So overall this disc’s musical rewards are variable. What is never in question, however, is the quality of the performances. The NDR Radiophilharmonie plays with spirit, with, panache and glittering colors under Jörg-Peter Weigle. Indeed, I doubt one could reasonably expect a better case to be made for this music, and CPO provides a very fine recorded sound. As such, this disc ultimately deserves to be heard by those with an interest in German romanticism – but I am not sure that one would miss much if one gave it a pass either; the fourth symphony is certainly worth hearing, even recommended listening, but I suppose those interested in the composer should turn first to his most successful work, the third symphony.
6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93c36ec4) out of 5 stars E for Effort 3 Oct. 2005
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Among the also-rans of the late 19th century was Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). He began as an acolyte of Wagner, wound up moving more towards the Brahmsian camp. His First Symphony retains fingerprints of both those composers, but one can clearly hear him moving more towards the classicist approach of Brahms. Aside from the retention of some pretty hair-raising Wagnerish modulations, the style of the symphony is certainly Brahmsian. The First Symphony, although not Draeseke's first effort at a symphony, has more than its share of awkwardness. The first movement makes use of seemingly unending sequences, strange voice-leading, idiosyncratic harmonies. It and its subsequent movements are also marked by uninspired melody writing. The almost elfin Scherzo is the most winning of the four movements and in its day even had a life as a stand-alone piece, being published on its own. Although there is some beautiful playing, the slight tentativeness of the NDR Symphony in this symphony does not help the work make its case.

The 1912 Fourth Symphony (written when Draeseke was seventy-seven) is subtitled 'Symphony Comica' for reasons that escape me; it is presumably a counterbalance to the Third Symphony, the 'Symphonia Tragica' of 1886. The comedy here is lumpish at best; perhaps it's simply Teutonic humor, and indeed there are some echoes of 'Meistersinger' in its counterpoint at the service of good humor. But it misses the mark by rather a large margin. Again, there is a paucity of memorable melodic material, but the working-out is a good deal more seamless than in the first symphony. The NDR Symphony, under Jörg-Peter Weigle, seem more at home here, and they do their best to put the work in the best light, but frankly it comes nowhere near being in the same class as such near-contemporary works as Mahler's symphonies or Strauss's tone poems.

The filler work is the 11-minute 'Gudrun Overture.' It is of a piece with the symphonies and not particularly memorable.

Both symphonies were nice to hear a few times, but I suspect I will not feel the need to hear either again.

Scott Morrison
2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6ae03a8) out of 5 stars Beginning and end the same - a mediocrity living on others ideas 28 Feb. 2009
By Larry VanDeSande - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I won't repeat the fine biographical points made by the other reviews, but I will offer something neither reviewer said. When I opened this and listened to the Symphony No. 1 in G major of Felix Draeseke, a composer of whom I had read nothing and of whom not a single word was written in the 2008 Penguin Guide, 2005 All Music Guide or 2000 Third Ear Classical Music, I first looked to his life dates for assistance. He was born 1835, less than a decade after Beethoven died, and died 1913, a few years before the beginning of World War I.

The link to Beethoven is made abundantly clear with the timpani thwack that opens the Symphony 1, something taken right out of Beethoven's Creatuires of Prometheus overture. When followed by a nifty allegro, I expected to hear more Beethoven. What surprised me was it was Schubert, not Beethoven, that was obviously this composer's role model early in life. This symphony, right up to its woodwind interlude after the opening of the final movement, is a combination of early Schubert -- think Symphony 2 or 3 -- or midlife Mendelssohn. It that's what you are looking for, this 35-minute symphony delivers it.

The Symphony No. 4, again in G major, is from the other end of the composer's life. A lot of time passed between the two symphonies and, based on what I hear in this, the composer went from being a copier of Schubert style to one of Richard Strauss and some others. It is labeled the comic symphony in contrast to the composer's third symphony that he called the dramatic symphony. The second movement briefly has some comic ideas in it, the only time I could clearly see the connection between the music and it's composer-derived name.

This music again sounds like Schubert in the ascending woodwind figures supporting the strings in the first development section of the first movement and the tuneful lullaby that opens the second movement. It then does a takeoff on Strauss before returning to more familiar classical-cum-romantic crossover ideas. I like Schubert (and Strauss!) as well as the next guy but, if I want to hear that, I'll put on his music. Seems to me there's not much point listening to this recording with all the great Schubert & Strauss laying around my house not being heard day after day.

For anyone still interested, the performances by Jorg-Peter Weigle and the North German Radio Philharmonic are exceptionally well-played and CPO has captured it all in first rate DDD sound with exceptional clarity and definition. The conductor drew committed playing from the orchestra members. If only the music was good enough to deserve it.
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