Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 6, “
Marko Letonja, cond; Basel SO
cpo 777 102 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 57:30)
Felix Weingartner is no stranger to the readers of
, but he is somewhat better known as interpreter than as composer, a conductor with legions of devoted fans of an earlier age of romantic conducting.
Conductor Marko Letonja expresses great affection for the composer’s work, yet it’s hard to know what to make of his copious, detailed, and exhaustively meandering program notes. He clearly admires his subject, yet he rather alarmingly lets slip his opinion that Weingartner had “limited talent as a composer,” and instead underlines an “enviably elegant command of all the rules and tricks of late-Romantic harmony.” Granted, the ever-shrinking fonts in program notes will no doubt preclude many listeners from doing their homework, but this admission would not seem to be an inviting way to draw listeners into uncharted territory. The conductor describes the two works on the disc in flowery terms, but one can’t help but feel that he showed his true hand too early. Despite his written reservations, there is nothing in the performances to suggest that his forces are anything other than completely enthralled in their pursuit of a nearly forgotten corner of the symphonic canon.
One can almost guess the influences without listening to a bar of music. Bruckner, early Mahler, and Wagner are important precedents, and when Weingartner chooses the unfortunate route of fugal writing, the specter of Brahms suddenly peaks from behind the curtain. Throughout the Symphony, one is struck by his invention of attractive melodies (particularly the lovely trio of the second movement) and skilled if conservative orchestration, alternating in equal portion with hackneyed Romantic clichés. The farther back he reaches for inspiration (Mendelssohn seems to be the earliest model), the more derivative the music becomes.
I was much more taken with
, a symphonic poem I expected to be a more overt homage to Strauss. The passages that evoke the older composer and master of the form are few, though striking. The birdcalls in the clarinet and other depictions of the natural world come from the Straussian playbook, but a more generic late-Romantic palette is the more dominant force. He uses a lighter touch than Strauss did, but he manages to conjure a soundscape that is often quite endearing, save the odd fugal passages that miss the mark and clichéd final bars that seem grafted on from a late-19th-century operetta. This will never supplant other famous musical depictions of spring (as the title suggests), but it is worth an occasional hearing from more orchestras than this fine Swiss ensemble.
After listening to this music, I was paradoxically left with a greater appreciation of Mahler’s work, if such a thing is possible. I was repeatedly left with the impression that Weingartner’s music may have been as much damaged or diluted by his considerable exposure to the classics than it was inspired by it. Could he have found a more distinctive voice had he been less saturated in his muses’ output? If complete immersion in others’ work is a hindrance, how did Mahler escape the same fate?
The performances are uniformly fine (especially the plaintive woodwinds), and Letonja shapes the score with care and detailed precision. The recording is excellent, with a realistic soundstage and an attractive bloom.
FANFARE: Michael Cameron
Works on This Recording
Frühling, Op. 80 by Felix Weingartner
Basel Symphony Orchestra
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