Richard Wetz (1875-1835) a German composer very much in the Late Romantic tradition, and a great admirer of Bruckner was far from a prodigious writer and completed only three symphonies.
From the very first chords of the opening movement of his second symphony one is aware of Bruckner, and the broad sweeping and memorable melody which ensues confirms this impression. The second movement is rather sorrowful, a lament, but not without its climaxes. The final movement of this three movement symphony opens with sense of urgency before easing back into another relaxed and spacious theme yet with an underlying tension, all the time working towards typical Brucknerian like climaxes. There is even a touch of Mahler evident especially in the first movement.
The overture which is also included here, intended as a symphonic poem rather than an introduction to a play, is a satisfying dramatic work of contrasts with broad melodies sweeping to frequent climaxes. However neither this nor the symphony manages to match the giddy heights which Bruckner achieved, and while listening to these works one can't help feeling Wetz is driving with the breaks on.
The recording is good with rich full bodied sound. There is no doubt that if you like Bruckner you will find the two works here, as well as Wetz other two symphonies, appealing and very interesting.
As I write, two detailed and eloquent recommendations of this fascinating disc have already been provided by fellow reviewers. What I really wanted to add was my own endorsement of their views, as the music of Richard Wetz has come as a delightful surprise to me.
I have to admit I wavered for a good while before I decided to purchase this CD; my fellow reviewers here and other writers on the composer had justly mentioned the influence of Bruckner on Wetz's own compositional style and the thought of listening to a kind of Bruckner-lite wasn't a very appealing proposition. Having now heard this symphony, though, it strikes me that Wetz was by no means a mere epigone and while that Viennese master symphonist's presence can be felt in Wetz's music, his influence seems to me to have been assimilated into what is a quite distinctive and personal compositional voice. Wetz had a quite pronounced lyrical gift - witness the radiant beginning of the symphony, for example, which is uplifting and memorable to say the least - but what marks him out as a born symphonist is the way his melodic writing is ideally suited to building large-scale musical structures; there is nothing contrived here (in that and in his lyrical talent he stands in marked contrast to his contemporary, Felix Woyrsch, whose first symphony I also just recently discovered*) and the music has a natural, organic flow to it that is extremely gratifying; his is a creative imagination that can make the music seem fresh and un-clichéd but also, crucially, make his discourse sound exactly right, so that once you have heard the music's progress you simply can't imagine how it could have gone any other way. The liner notes suggest that this was originally planned as a four-movement work but the absence of a scherzo (if that, indeed, was what the extra movement would have been) is no loss and, in its three-movement arc, the symphony seems perfectly judged and proportioned.
It is perhaps fanciful and self-indulgent to impose extra-musical associations on an abstract work, but my use of the words "natural" and "organic" is deliberate and reflects the strong pastoral feel of this symphony - though perhaps `pastoral' is too narrow a term, redolent of Arcadian shepherds and a Classical Golden Age; to my ears, this music breathes the air of `Nature' in a more sublime sense - often sunny as seen here and ultimately life-affirming, frequently awe-inspiring too, but not without darker clouds being cast over the symphonic landscape as the listener follows Wetz's musical journey.
As one of my fellow reviewers has noted, the much earlier `Kleist' Overture already bears many of the same stylistic fingerprints of Wetz's mature style; one can understand why it made a good impression when it was first performed, especially given the composer's relative youth, but it strikes me as a rather less individual and assured work than the symphony - enjoyable enough, no doubt, but the symphony is undoubtedly the work of a master.
It seems to me that Werner Andreas Albert and his forces really have the measure of this music, the pace set giving the composer's expressive melodic lines room to breathe but with a keen sense of forward movement too when required. CPO has provided the artists with a similarly well-judged soundscape, bringing clarity to Wetz's beautiful orchestration but not at the expense of warmth.
As you can probably tell, this disc has been quite an eye-opener (ear-opener?) for me and for anyone else interested in the Late Romantic symphony, I would say it is required listening.
The people at the German classical label CPO have over the years displayed a knack for uncovering forgotten composers from the late romantic era. As it turns out, some of them (like Weingartner and Pfitzner) were top conductors in their time, who also turned their hands at composing. Richard Wetz saw the post as conductor purely as a means of making a living and although strongly championed by Weingartner, never fronted any top ensembles. His main interest lay in composing. Born in 1869 he came under the influence of Wagner, Liszt, Mahler and Bruckner and it is in Bruckner's style that Wetz continued to compose until the end of his life. There seems to have been no development in his composing style (the Kleist overture from the late 19th century is not markedly different from the second symphony, composed some twenty years later). The developments in music by Debussy, Stravinsky or Schönberg etc. seem to have passed him by largely unnoticed. While the Kleist Overture is in keeping with the times (it was well received at the time), the second symphony is clearly an anachronism. Around the early thirties, Wetz comlained that people found his music to be satisfactory, when they got the chance to be exposed to it, but they very seldom were.
That said, it is undeniable that the music is well composed in a rich harmonic language, with enough drama to keep things interesting, but without the sometimes hysterical overtones of a Mahler or the empty bombast of a Wagner or Liszt. But of course (and that is the reason for four stars instead of five), they were originals who broke new ground for men like Wetz, who otherwise might have still composed in the style of Mendelssohn.
Personally I welcome these releases by CPO, because they go to show that, regardless of personal success, the mid to late 19th century produced some very fine craftsmen who composed music that, although an anachronism in their time (and the subject of scorn and ridicule by the Bergs and Weberns), can still satisfy the listener with beautiful, rich orchestral textures. The recording technique and the conducting are exemplary in that they manage to produce a very luminous picture of the music.
The latest composer to come to my attention thanks to CPO is Richard Wetz, whose 3 Symphonies are rapidly becoming some of favourite works; the more I listen to them the more I like them. The influence of Bruckner is obvious right from the onset, but their brilliance is more subtle and comes with repeated listening. The 2nd symphony I think is the most accessible of the 3, and would be a good place to start if you're stuck with which Wetz CPO disc to go for; the 3 movement form makes it slightly easier to swallow for people new to the composer. The piece immediately reminds me of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, not just because of the similar theme but the way it creates a picture of wonderful and powerful landscape. All 3 movements switch regularly between calm and pastoral to darker, more turbulent episodes. The music of Wetz has been a great discovery for me, and all 3 of the CPO symphony recordings are extremely well played and recorded. These works deserve far more attention.