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Wetz: Violin Concerto, Etc / Albert, Et Al

Release Date: 01/18/2005 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 999933   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Wetz
Performer:  Markus Koehler
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic OrchestraAugsburg Music School Chamber Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 52 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The symphonies of turn-of-the-century Leipzig composer Richard Wetz (1875–1935) bespeak a musical artist standing firmly in the footsteps of Anton Bruckner, whose style is followed in his works more eerily closely than in the works of any other early 20th-century composer, even to the point of quoting the texture and manner of the older master. The Wetz symphonies are monumental works, more diverse in their textural range than those of Bruckner, but still a clear reaction against the modernist trends that swirled around a composer so enamored of slowly building climaxes, repetitions, and open-fifth tremolos that it is no exaggeration to call him a Bruckner epigone. So, immediately, the main question posed by this release is, “What on earth Read more would a Brucknerian violin concerto sound like?’ Is it something to advertise in polite society, or is it something we should call in the National Guard to deal with?

The truth is that, while it is certainly a grand, powerful, and long-limbed creation, Wetz’s final major composition cannot really be called Brucknerian. Already, in 1922, his Third Symphony had begun to forge a voice that was evolving complexly away from the model of Wetz’s hero. Listeners who come to this 1933 concerto from the symphonies are likely to be even more surprised by its wistful elusiveness and aspects of its texture that speak less of 19th-century style and more of a mixture of Pfitzner, Reger, and Strauss, “conservatives” all (by aggressively modernist standards) but thoroughly 20th-century figures. While “Brucknerian” touches can indeed be readily heard, particularly around cadential points, they serve rather as motivic elements in a diverse tapestry, woven together around the sinewy, twisting solo violin line. Indeed, one of the most recognizably Brucknerian effects, a slowly building chorale, rising by step with repeated figurations and dissolving suddenly into silence, exercises a subtly cyclic effect across the whole work, as a motive rather than a consistent aspect of the texture.

Also Brucknerian is the way Wetz opposes choirs of contrasting pure sonorities: flute choirs against low strings, for instance. Still, it must be said that Wetz’s coloristic vocabulary is masterfully kaleidoscopic, especially by comparison with the master he so evidently desired to emulate.

This work is also formally striking within the genre of violin concertos, unfolding as a single movement demarcated into sections by tempo and textural changes. These sections follow each other without clear breaks and with considerable interweaving of thematic material. The most clearly traditional section, banded as the third track (of four) on this recording, strikes one, an aggressively rustic, almost Mahlerian Ländler, but one which nevertheless dissolves into an undulating, wandering introversion that reprises the unfocused wistfulness of the work’s opening, albeit pulsing in a clear triple meter that is otherwise submerged in the work. The formal complexity of this concerto, the last by Wetz to carry an opus number, suggests a surprising kinship, if not with Berg’s concerto of only two years later, then the longer works of Reger. It is modernist in its sensibility, its ascetic restraint, if not in its tonal language. As he has on other recordings for the cpo label, violinist Ulf Wallin deftly weaves his way through the work’s ruminatively wandering lines as they twist through long chains of sighing figures. His tone remains strong and forceful, but also capable of the liquid lyricism that Wetz’s long, twisting melodies seem to demand. This is not a flashy, virtuoso showpiece, but a concerto whose difficulties are primarily interpretive and are compounded by wide registral leaps and strenuous chains of double and triple stops. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Wallin has also been one of the leading exponents of the violin works of Max Reger, whose style kept coming back to me in my mind as I listened.

Cpo fills out this disc with two significant works for choir and orchestra. In both recordings, the choir of the Augsburg Conservatory is a little over-miked and undernourished. Sopranos are a little dominant, and they swoop on occasion, but by and large they deliver a sensitive and lovingly shaped performance. The short Traumsommernacht of 1904, to a text by Otto Julius Bierbaum, is surprising, closer in spirit to the shimmering quasi-impressionistic tapestries of a Zemlinsky or Schreker than to what could be expected from a composer who turned his back on all that. But then, this work came before his retrenchment. Some of the internal vocal sections seem inspired by the Flower Maidens from Parsifal, but are combined with some shimmering, wispy nocturnal effects that would not be out of place in the Gurrelieder.

The 1912 Hölderlin setting Hyperion is more what you might expect from the composer of the First and Second Symphonies: a rambling, post-Wagnerian hodgepodge, whose choral writing seems to emanate from the more pedestrian repertoire of amateur men’s choirs. While the choral contribution is here satisfactory, the performance is somewhat marred by the pleasant-voiced but often unsteady baritone of Markus Köhler, who marks time serviceably through the work with only a few glimmers of interpretive insight, and too many moments where he drifts beneath pitch, sagging especially in his tenor-like upper registers. It is the sort of thing one used to expect from premiere recordings, a mere suggestion of the possibilities that a finer performance might tease out of the composition. Still, the stylistic collisions of this work, in which Wetz sheds the fin-de-siècle style of his youth for a retrenched conservatism that he did not yet wear comfortably, presents serious interpretive difficulties. In discussing its collisions of text imagery and musical purpose, Eckhardt van den Hoogen suggests in the booklet notes that this was a necessary work, that Wetz’s encounter with Hölderlin’s text would prepare him for the kind of affective complexity he could successfully assay in the Violin Concerto. He does not, however, make this connection clear to the reader. He also argues laboriously that its stylistic confusion and expressive misfirings make Hyperion “not a bad work,” hardly a ringing endorsement.

Highly recommended, then, for a strong performance of a valuable and unfamiliar violin concerto. The choral works will likely remain space-filling curiosities.

Christopher Williams, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op 57 by Richard Wetz
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 
Trausommernacht, Op. 14 by Richard Wetz
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Augsburg Music School Chamber Choir,  Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 
Hyperion, Op. 32 by Richard Wetz
Performer:  Markus Koehler (Baritone)
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Augsburg Music School Chamber Choir,  Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Superb, But Somewhat Subdued March 2, 2013 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "If you read the professional review of Richard Wetz's Violin Concerto that Arkivmusic provides with its listing of this recording, you'll note the reference and linkage to Bruckner. Perhaps I'm showing my purely amateur status here, but I saw it in a slightly different way. Perhaps due to the clearly dominant role of the soloist's violin throughout the entire concerto, I was somehow reminded of the same effect in Felix Mendelssohn's famous concerto (granted, Mendelssohn is from an different era). Soloist Ulf Wallin gives a strong performance, and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland Pfalz provides excellent backing, with CPO's customary great sonics. The remaining two works are choral/orchestral compositions, with different formats in each. Traumnsommernacht, of only 6 minutes duration, is scored for female chorus and orchestra. I found it to be a pleasant, relaxed work of grace and beauty, as was the case for the 16-minute long Hyperion, scored for baritone, chorus, and orchestra. Wetz has the soloist, chorus, and orchestra steadily build up to a truly impressive conclusion, providing a definitive and powerful final punctuation to an altogether excellent work. I found the overall aesthetic quality of the entire recording to be one of peace and restraint, except as just noted. Perhaps I missed something entirely, but whatever influence Bruckner might have had on Richard Wetz just didn't ring a bell with me when I listened to this performance. No matter- you will find plenty of excellent music here, and I recommend this CD to anyone interested in the late Romantic period." Report Abuse
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