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Philippe Scharwenka: Wald- Und Berggeister - Intermezzo / Solen, Et Al

Release Date: 11/24/2009 
Label:  Sterling   Catalog #: 1079   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Philipp Scharwenka
Conductor:  Eric Solén
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestera
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Fine and quiet as well as restless and bustlingly sanguine.

This disc joins Sterling’s other Philipp Scharwenka orchestral volume ( CDS1071-2).

It’s another enterprising entry in this Swedish company’s tirelessly executed mission to populate their German Romantics stable with the deserving yet unrecorded.

Be warned, this is not the piano concerto Scharwenka. That’s Xaver. Philipp was Xaver’s elder brother. He was born near Poznan - a Prussian in Poland. He made his first public éclat in 1871 when an overture and a symphony of his featured in a concert. The Scharwenka brothers
Read more established music schools in Berlin and New York. Philipp numbered Oskar Fried among his pupils. Sadly much of Philipp’s music was destroyed during the Second World War.

The cheerful Wald- und Berg Geister crosses backwards and forwards between Dvorak (7 and 8) and Beethoven's Pastoral. The three movement Dramatic Phantasie is a work of symphonic proportions and spirit. Moods move naturally and mercurially, being suggestive momentarily of Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. This works despite my ham-fisted attempt at description. There's a silvery romantic quasi-Tchaikovskian Andante in there incorporating a clarinet solo (Hendrick Schnöke) with harp. While it's evident that this fine and quiet web-spinning strains the Altenburg-Gera orchestra they put the message across most winningly. A restless and bustlingly sanguine Allegro sprints off but finds time for shivers and serenades. To round out a not especially generous timing we get two Polish dances. The Polonaise is dignified with a faint Hungarian flavour while the Mazurka flounces along with a combination of natural stiff-necked seriousness, pointed energy and romantic asides. The dances are pleasant enough but the real centrepiece is the Dramatische Phantasie which is a symphony in poetic spontaneity.

If you enjoy Schumann, and Dvorak you will appreciate these pleasing pieces and the Phantasie is more than just pleasing.

I was very pleased to see that the disc carried an insert from the Xaver and Philipp Scharwenka Society. Have a look at their website. The Society have established the Scharwenka Foundation in Bad Saarow in Brandenburg with a view to restoration of Xaver´s composing home. He lived there from 1910 to 1924.

Lübeck-based Evelinde Trenkner has made some ten CDs for MDG. She is the moving force behind the Society and Foundation and has often performed Philipp’s Violin Sonata op. 110 with various violinists. Xaver’s Symphony finds its only home so far on Sterling as do his piano concertos and chamber music on Hyperion.

If you would like to delve further - as well you might after hearing this CD - look at a brace of very interesting chamber music CDs from MDG of Philipp’s Trios and cello sonata with Trio Parnassus and the String quartets and Piano Quintet with the Mannheimer String Quartet and Thomas Duis.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International



P. SCHARWENKA Wald- und Berggeister. Dramatische Phantasie. 2 Polish Folk Dances Eric Solén, cond; Altenburg-Gera PO STERLING 1079 (56:59)

If the name Scharwenka means anything to most Fanfare readers, it means the composer-pianist Xaver, whose work benefited from the Romantic revival that swept the musical world a generation or two ago. Philipp Scharwenka (1847–1917) was Xaver’s older brother. Katharina Rosenkranz’s welcome annotation informs us that, in their lifetimes, both he and Xaver “were eminent figures in the musical landscape of the so-called Imperial Germany. They exercised a determining influence on musical education of the period; their works were highly valued and performed by musicians of the highest caliber.” Philipp’s music was conducted by the likes of Richter, Seidl, Mottl and Nikisch; Otto Klemperer and Oskar Fried were among his students. None other than the esteemed Hugo Leichtentritt wrote that Philipp was “a consummate master of the art of composition” and that “the chamber works of his last 20 years are among the most perfectly formed in their genre.” Sadly, Rosenkranz concludes, we may never gain a full picture of this composer as “the greater part of his legacy was destroyed during the Second World War.”

Sad indeed, for on the basis of these symphonic works, Scharwenka was a fine composer. The inlay booklet provides no information about the nine-minute symphonic poem Wald- und Berggeister but the forest and mountain spirits of its title sound like they might be closely related to the creatures found in the hall of the Mountain King in Grieg’s Peer Gynt . It is well orchestrated and has good propulsion, but the overly repetitive rhythmic pattern (short-short-long) overstays its welcome.

The 38-minute Dramatic Fantasy is on an entirely different plane of inspiration. Here we find a far more advanced harmonic language, highly varied orchestration, a wider range of dynamics, and far greater contrast of ideas. It fairly drips with hyper-romantic sensibility with its stormy moods, sweeping melodies, and tormented, Manfredian mindscapes. The paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner come to mind. The first of its three fairly equal-length movements is marred by an inappropriately circusy second theme, but otherwise engages and holds the imagination. The central movement is a reverie of wondrous beauty featuring extended woodwind solos, while the final movement conjures up images of knights riding through dark, mysterious German forests (think of Mahler’s Klagende Lied ) in search of maidens in distress to rescue.

The Two Polish Folk Dances come from the same world as Dvo?ák’s Slavonic Dances and Brahms’s Hungarian Dances. (Scharwenka was himself of Polish descent.) One is a polonaise, the other a mazurka. One suspects they could be orchestrations of the composer’s many dances originally written for piano or piano duet. They’re pleasant enough but lack the profile and imagination of the Dramatic Fantasy , which alone is worth the price of the disc.

Performances are excellent. The Altenberg-Gera Philharmonic is obviously a well-trained ensemble and its Swedish conductor (since 2005), Eric Solén, leads Scharwenka’s music with commitment and understanding.

The product makes no mention that any of these works are first recordings, but I can find no others either on ArkivMusic or in worldcat.org. A Scharwenka Society in Germany (scharwenka.de) may be useful to those interested in pursuing more information about either Philipp or Xaver.

FANFARE: Robert Markow
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Works on This Recording

Wald -und Berggeister, Op. 37 by Philipp Scharwenka
Conductor:  Eric Solén
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestera
Period: Romantic 
Dramatische Phantasie, Op. 108 by Philipp Scharwenka
Conductor:  Eric Solén
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestera
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901 
Polish Folk Dances (2), Op. 20 by Philipp Scharwenka
Conductor:  Eric Solén
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestera
Period: Romantic 

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