on 6 March 2013
With this release CPO's enterprising survey of Felix Weingartner's symphonies comes to a rather grandiloquent conclusion: I have to say I didn't approach this disc with the same eager anticipation as I greeted the earliest issues in the series - the journey through Weingartner's symphonies has ultimately been one of increasing frustration and frankly, at times, disappointment, the later works failing (to my ears at least) to live up to the freshness of inspiration that was such a marked feature of the first four symphonies. In the event, I have enjoyed this final symphony more than I expected to but it still remains a rather ungainly essay that fails to pull together the disparate elements of the score into a convincing whole.
Its lengthy course begins with a movement that combines fugue and sonata form: it's not as knotty a piece of counterpoint as the fugue that concluded the fifth symphony (which, the liner notes assure us was written to counter critics of the composer's fugal technique, seemingly forgetting that the movement was in fact a reworking of a unused piece of chamber music left in the composer's desk drawer several years earlier) and the thematic material, while not striking in itself, gains much from Weingartner's lucid orchestration; anyone expecting the sweep, grandeur and melodic generosity of the movements that opened his second and third symphonies is likely to be disappointed here but - given that three quarters of this hour long work is devoted to vocal movements - perhaps it is better to consider this 'Andante pesante' more as a prelude to the events that follow than a regular symphonic statement. The only other purely orchestral movement is the scherzo, which comes third in Weingartner's scheme: the outer sections are rather quirky, certainly a little more astringent harmonically at times than in earlier such movements from his pen; it took me a while to "get" this movement but in the end I have come to rather enjoy it and the trio section is quite lovely, most definitely a return to form in terms of melodic inspiration. Between first and third movements is a rather sombre setting of Friedrich Hebbel's "Two Wanderers" which adds baritone, mezzo and choir to the orchestra ('Andante sostenuto', timing: 13'50"); the finale, a thirty minute piece for vocal quartet, chorus and orchestra, is almost the length of the first three movements combined. Here Weingartner sets a poem by his wife at the time and Holderlin's "Hymn to Love"; there are some very attractive passages here and some pleasing melodic writing (a notable gift that he doesn't seem to have lost over the course of his career) but as a paean to love, whether earthly or divine, it doesn't really rise to the heights of expression or grandeur that Weingartner's massive instrumental forces and the overall scale of the movement imply he intended. Indeed, notwithstanding a certain sensitivity to word setting - apparent in the second movement also - and one or two nods to Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' in the ensemble writing for the soloists, the overall effect sounds all too laboured and the return of material from the opening fugue hinders rather than helps matters as Weingartner builds towards his emphatic but prosaic coda.
In terms of performance and recording, Marko Letonja provides as distinguished advocacy as Weingartner could have hoped for - the vocalists are consistently good and the orchestra and chorus play as though the music were in their blood; the sound quality is beautifully balanced, warm and detailed. The texts of the poems Weingartner used are provided in the original German and in an English translation. The lengthy booklet essay by Eckhardt van der Hoogen is as ludicrously self-indulgent, as peppered with esoteric philosophy and with exhortations to the reader as those in the previous volumes of this survey are; a modern performance of the symphony in 2012, presumably by the artists here, enables him to take some snide potshots at an unimpressed modern music critic - whom he gallantly and self-consciously refrains from naming while making every effort to render her review easily traceable by the reader.
I will, I am sure, listen to this symphony again occasionally - if only to see if I am missing something - but for truly rewarding listening and imaginative music, it will be the first four Weingartner symphonies that I continue to return to regularly. If you are new to Weingartner's orchestral music, it is those discs that you should seek out first; if you are familiar with CPO's survey so far, whether you add this to collection will depend on how well you have responded to his later music, with which this work shares pretty much the same virtues and faults, albeit expounded at greater length.
on 14 June 2013
CPO took around 9 years to complete the monumental task of recording most of Weingartner's symphonic outpourings. Only the Cello concerto and the orchestration of Beethoven's Grosse Fugue could be added to this series. I can't understand why the other reviewer gives the whole thing 3 stars. Imagine there're 100 orchestral players, 5 soloists, a huge choir, a recording company, SACD-quality, packaging and distributing under way for a mere 10 pounds, for you alone! Let alone this is done 1 one live performance, so the common practice of bettering and editing after a recording session must have been extremely difficult. That alone should earn this release 10 stars. Okay the music isn't top notch, Weingartner clearly thought of himself as a kind of Messiahs or tried to compose Beethoven's Symphony nr. 9B...., but in the middle of all the reissues the larger company's like Sony, EMI etc. do, this kind of releases are a revelation. This music is striking, full of illogical ideas, has it's dull moments too, you could say the symphony is way too long, but that's the same with The Hobbit, and it's mostly a matter of personal taste if you like it or not. I do like it. The only problem I have is this: the booklet is illegible, the print is so small! Second, the essay enclosed is written by some philosopher who thinks he's Schopenhauer, and it's totally not understandable for me. I learnt to read German and English for many years but this............ what's it all about?