GERNSHEIM Symphonies: No. 1–4 • Siegfried Kohler,cond; Rhineland St P Pfalz • ARTE NOVA ARNO 636350 (2 CDs: 129:00)
After Beethoven, the direction of the symphony had to change. Who could equal, let alone surpass the magnificence and the powerful statement of the Ninth Symphony? One composer who was thought a worthy successor was Jan K?titel Václav Kalivoda, whose German name was Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda. David Hurwitz, the founder of ClassicsRead more Today, views Kalivoda as “a sort of symphonic ‘missing link’ between Beethoven and Schumann.”
But Kalivoda’s star descended almost as rapidly as it had ascended, for he never was able to again achieve the measure of success that came with his First Symphony. The torch then passed into the hands of Mendelssohn, then on to Schumann, and finally to another musical giant, Johannes Brahms, whose first symphony appeared in the third quarter of the 19th century. This period also saw the first attempts at writing symphonies by a number of other composers. Among them: Bruch, who composed three symphonies; Strauss, who wrote two; and Friedrich Gernsheim (1839–1916), who composed not one but four symphonies between 1875 and 1896.
Gernsheim was a prodigy, first touring Europe as a concert pianist at the ripe old age of 11. Gernsheim was on the road for two years and thereafter settled with his family in Leipzig. He was on the move again in 1855, visiting Paris where the teenager met Rossini, Lalo, and Saint-Säens. Thereafter, Gernsheim’s travels took him to Saarbrücken, Cologne, and finally Berlin, where he worked and taught until his death in 1916 at the age of 77.
A prolific composer, especially of orchestral, chamber, and instrumental music and songs, Gernsheim occasionally selected Jewish subject matter. For example the Third Symphony is based upon the legend of the Song of Miriam that concludes Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Gernsheim’s earlier works show the influence of Schumann, and from 1868, when he first became friendly with Brahms, Brahms’s influence is very tangible. Gernsheim’s four symphonies (the first of which was written before the publication of Brahms’s First Symphony) are interesting examples of the reception of Brahmsian style by a sympathetic and talented contemporary. But where Brahms was ponderous and stern with a particular inclination in the directions of melancholy and tragedy, Gernsheim’s music displayed an entirely different character, one that was filled with lightness, not to mention Mediterranean inclinations and even fantasy. However, both Brahms and Gernsheim were rooted in the Classical tradition. Where Brahms looked to Beethoven for his inspiration, Gernsheim was influenced by Spohr, Mendelssohn, and Schubert, and to a lesser degree Beethoven.
Lost in the shadow of his great colleague and friend Brahms, Gernsheim is described in a 1928 biography by Karl Holl as “a meistersinger who made the best of his talent in his own particular way.” Holl also offered a description of Gernsheim’s four symphonies, noting that the first was “impassioned,” the second “idyllic,” the third “heroic,” and the fourth “joyful.”
If you’re expecting Brahms, then don’t buy these discs, for Brahms simply isn’t there. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a different view of his era, then you will find the inspired playing and impeccable musicianship in this two-disc set just what the doctor ordered. Siegfried Kohler steers his fine orchestra through these uncharted waters with confidence and commitment, and his performances leave no stone unturned and nothing to be desired. This is unquestionably magnificent music with much to say, and it more than occasionally knocks on the door of greatness!
Brahms, Symphonies 5-8.December 5, 2011By David Luck (Goleta, CA)See All My Reviews"Composer and conducter Friedrich Gernsheim, a Brahms contemporary, led south German orchestras and participated in chamber performances of many of the Master's works. His own compositions, no surprise, are full of Brahmsian melodic turns and harmonic devices, and these four symphonies are, if imitative, exceptionally fine music; in fact, Gernshiem's First Symphony appeared some years before Brahms First. The Rheinland-pfalz State Phil plays loudly if not well. In all, this two-disc set of Gernsheim symphonies will be a worthwhile acquisition for all those who value well-wrought, late-romantic symphonies and anyone interested in Brahm's influence on other German and European composers."Report Abuse
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