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Weber: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Bassoon Concerto / Geoghegan, Mena, BBC PO

Weber / Geoghegan / Bbc Philharmonic Orch / Mena
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10748   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carl Maria von Weber
Performer:  Karen Geoghegan
Conductor:  Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WEBER-BERLIOZ Aufforderung zum Tanze, Op. 65. WEBER Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 17. Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in F, Op. 75 1. Symphony No. 2 in C Juanjo Mena, cond; 1 Karen Geoghegan (bn); BBC PO CHANDOS 10748 (69:11)
Read more /> Weber wrote symphonies. Or perhaps it might better be put: Weber wrote symphonies? Chiefly remembered for his contributions to opera in Germany—primarily through Der Freischütz, less so through Oberon and Euryanthe —Weber also wrote a great deal of instrumental works for which he is still remembered: his works for piano (among those pieces the original version of the Aufforderung zum Tanze and four piano sonatas) along with his numerous concerted works for piano, clarinet, and bassoon with orchestral accompaniment. It is surely the virtuoso aspects of these genres which continued to intrigue later generations of composers in the 19th century. But what of the symphonies? What can we make of a genre in which Weber rarely showed interest, except at this very early stage in his development? And what can we make of works in which the composer himself found fault later in his own life? Some would dismiss these compositions as bad Haydn or bad early Beethoven, but rather than seeing them for what they are not, would it not be better to see what they reveal about this still budding composer?

Whatever one makes of these works—and there is plenty to see in just the colors which Weber can draw out of a limited number of instruments (it was not for nothing that both Debussy and Stravinsky admired his work)—the one truly remarkable aspect of these works is how they show the composer’s flair for the theatrical. And perhaps this is the reason that so many find them dull or uninventive. They are not. In just around 20 minutes each, Weber creates a quasi-tone poem with each: The First Symphony moves from the dramatic (even dark-hued in certain sections) opening movement through the somber Andante (could there be an opening which sounds more like one to a concerto slow movement than this does here?), the brisk and light-hearted Scherzo, finally ending with an optimistic and fast-paced Presto which opens with Weber’s beloved horns and ends in bright C Major. Indeed there are hallmarks of Weber’s later style written all over these works: And what a joy they are to behold in the more than capable hands of Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic. The players here not only imbue the music with the freshness it needs, they capture the right balance of emotional expression—there is in some senses a distance which they maintain which is perfect for this music. The spirit of the Second Symphony is equally well attained. The Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra—one of the highlights of the bassoon repertoire and of Weber’s concertante output—is given a rousing performance by Karen Geoghegan. She maintains a lovely tone throughout, playful yet sensitive to the nuances of the passagework and careful in her subtle manipulation of phrasing. The BBC Philharmonic here follows her to the T. Kudos also to the sound engineers for capturing that lovely sense of balance between solo parts and those that require more blend; closing one’s eyes, it feels as if you are right in the concert hall. The Aufforderung zum Tanze is one of my very favorite pieces of music, and perhaps because of my intimate relationship with the piece in its original form, there is hardly a performance of the Berlioz transcription that pleases. That said, these forces do a fine job here: The multitude of instruments highlighted is well captured, though the piece misses a bit of that fire, that tension, which is so much a part of its makeup. But quibbles here and there do not diminish the quality of this spectacular production. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega


It’s good that these works are receiving fresh and agreeably transparent recordings from Chandos and the BBCPO. We need a successor to Marriner, Anthony Halstead and Roy Goodman on Nimbus, John Georgiadis on Naxos (a strong contender by all accounts) and the fondly remembered Hans-Hubert Schönzeler, once on an RCA LP and then reissued on Guild GMCD7138. The disc comes into direct competitive confrontation with a recent-ish and excellent full price CD from Bis and the Tapiola Sinfonietta conducted by Jean-Jacques Kantorow. I have good memories of the now almost ‘ancient’ Schönzeler but have not heard the others.

Berlioz’s fingerprints are all over the Weber Invitation to the Dance. While the maelstrom that was Berlioz is said only to have orchestrated the piece one wonders whether the unblushingly candid references to the Symphonie Fantastique indicate more than ‘mere’ orchestration. It is - or was - a classical ‘pop’ with its manic-triumphant dance spasms and its placid solo cello introduction and farewell. Mena and his orchestra bring real style to the proceedings. The conductor here favours a lean rather than lush ‘edge’ to the upper register of the strings … or is it the MediaCity acoustic? I don’t remember hearing that ‘edge’ when the BBCPO were recorded at Studio 7 in Manchester.

The First and Second Symphonies are full of Rossinian contrast, tense pattering figures and Schubertian vigour. The recording here lovingly lays bare the many felicitous details of these scores. Nothing is skated over. They will appeal to anyone who loves the first two Schubert symphonies or Beethoven 4 or 8 and there is a romantic yet concise pathos to these readings. Weber is never long-winded. If anything he finishes a movement leaving you wanting more; that’s certainly true of the finished-almost-before-it-started finale of No. 2. The skirl and stomp of this symphony inevitably suggests a link with Beethoven’s Seventh.

The Weber Bassoon Concerto is in three movements. It is not recorded as often as the much-exposed clarinet and orchestra works. Taking on a romantic persona here it is jaunty rather than jovial. The music is, time after time, superbly pointed and accented by soloist and orchestra. Karen Geoghegan is recorded upfront and personal without effacing the almost Mozartean orchestral backdrop.

The notes are by Harriet Smith and manage an equable balance between the factual and the musically descriptive: a pleasure to read. We can hope that Chandos will commission more from this writer.

A doughty entrant in the hardly over-populated Weber catalogue. Enjoyable stuff.

– Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in C major, J 51 by Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor:  Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1807; Germany 
Symphony no 1 in C major, J 50/Op. 19 by Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor:  Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1807/1810; Germany 
Invitation to the Dance, in D flat major J 260/Op. 65 by Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor:  Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1819; Dresden, Germany 
Concerto for Bassoon in F major, J 127/Op. 75 by Carl Maria von Weber
Performer:  Karen Geoghegan (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1811/1822; Germany 

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