Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony in F,
Herman Bäumer, cond;
Anna Kasyan (sop); Osnabrücker Sym O
CPO 777 264-2 (66:56)
Eugen d’Albert (1864–1932) is primarily remembered as the last and possibly greatest piano pupil of Franz Liszt. By all accounts he was a prodigy virtuoso of staggering ability, though his few acoustic recordings were
made after he had largely abandoned concertizing for composing and give little indication of his actual prowess. However, d’Albert’s primary ambition was to be a composer, particularly of operas, of which he wrote 21, though he also wrote two piano concertos, a cello concerto, two string quartets, piano pieces, Lieder and other vocal works, and the present symphony. Of all his works, only his seventh opera,
remains in the repertoire, and that only in Germany. The only other works of his that have been recorded are his opera
Die Tote Augen
, the three concertos, and some of the piano works.
The Symphony in F Major was completed shortly before d’Albert’s 20th birthday. While no one would mistake it for a hitherto undiscovered masterpiece, it is an astonishingly fine work for a composer so young and inexperienced. D’Albert had a real gift for melodic themes that are immediately engaging and yet also substantial enough to undergo real formal symphonic development. If his grasp of symphonic form is unoriginal and consciously imitative of Brahms, it is nevertheless technically competent and assured, and his ear for orchestration is always apt and colorful. As for the compositional style, while Brahms and sometimes Schumann are ever present and prominent, there are surprisingly close affinities to another great composer and near contemporary whose work would not generally become known in Europe for another 15 years—Edward Elgar. While not possessing the Englishman’s subtlety and sophistication, any number of tuneful passages—e.g., at 7:52, 10:27, and 11:54 in the first movement, 7:49 in the second, the opening of the scherzo, and 5:14 and 10:25 in the finale—will have an unwary listener wondering if Anthony Payne has uncovered and fleshed out another sketch of an Elgar symphony. D’Albert was born and raised in Glasgow; although he embraced German culture at an early age and repudiated his homeland, he obviously did not shed the influence of his early musical training there.
was dashed off by d’Albert in a few days in 1898 while he was working on his opera
. The immediate inspiration for the text was Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the mermaid who can become human only if she wins a man’s love. The text, by one James Grun, blatantly purloins inspiration from Wagner’s
, as the mermaid ecstatically embraces deliverance and transformation in death. Here d’Albert, whose main weakness as a composer was his successive embrace and imitation of different styles rather than development of a consistent and distinctive voice of his own, unabashedly models both his vocal line and orchestration on Richard Strauss. Here the result is considerably less successful; the piece is pleasantly listenable but completely forgettable.
Soprano Anna Kasyan sings well overall; her voice has an attractive, full-bodied sound, though on sustained tones it always takes her a half-second to get her vibrato centered. Herman Bäumer and the orchestra (Osnabrück is in northwestern Germany, northeast of Münster) offer lively playing with a fine sense of ensemble, abetted by evident conviction and commitment, making the best possible case for both works. The symphony is a keeper that should delight any fan of 19th-century Romantic symphonic repertoire, and makes this disc well worth acquiring.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Symphony in F major, Op. 4 by Eugen D'Albert
Seejungfraulein, Op. 15 by Eugen D'Albert
Anna Kasyan (Soprano)
Symphony in F major, Op. 4: I. Massig bewegt
Symphony in F major, Op. 4: II. Langsam, aber nicht schleppend
Symphony in F major, Op. 4: III. Sehr schnell
Symphony in F major, Op. 4: IV. Massig langsam - Belebt
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