If you want to check a symphonist's freshness and originality, go to a trio section. It always marks out the jobsworths. By that test Louise Farrenc well deserved her prominence as pianist, composer and teacher. All her symphonies date from the mid-1840s, when hardly anybody else in Paris wrote in the form, and though acclaimed they were never published. Yet they evolve purposefully from a Hummel-Mendelssohn style to something uncannily like Schubert, both in harmonic quirks and in the prominence of the woodwind.
Karl Weigl’s music demonstrates once again that the great Austrian/German symphonic tradition did not die with Mahler, but continued to thrive well into the 20th century. Weigl (1881-1949) worked under Mahler in Vienna and enjoyed a fine reputation until, as we’ve heard often by now, the Nazi seizure of power, which forced his emigration to America where he died in comparative obscurity. He nevertheless composed a substantial body of orchestral and chamber music, including six symphonies. If this one is typical, it’s a legacy that urgently calls out for wider exposure. Composed in 1945 and dedicated to the memory of President Roosevelt, the “Apocalyptic Symphony” received its premiere in 1968 under Stokowski. Although a couple of private tapes of that and at least one other performance exist, neither gives much sense of the impact that this magnificent work can have in concert. This splendid recording does. Weigl’s music offers the tonal richness and harmonic complexity of Franz Schmidt, with a healthy dose of Mahlerian irony and a brittle humor that calls to mind Berthold Goldschmidt. The symphony opens with a marvelous gesture: over the sounds of the orchestra tuning, the trombones blast out the first movement’s principal theme. Order having thus been established out of chaos, the music moves purposefully through a variety of predominantly dark moods to a stern conclusion.
Alexander's Feast (HWV 75) is an ode with music by George Frideric Handel set to a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton. Hamilton adapted his libretto from John Dryden's ode Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music (1697) which had been written to celebrate Saint Cecilia's Day. Jeremiah Clarke (whose score is now lost) set the original ode to music.
Handel composed the music in January 1736, and the work received its premiere at the Covent Garden Theatre, London, on 19 February 1736.
With the violin concertos by Jean Sibelius and Igor Stravinsky, Zhi-Jong Wang and the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Sanderling, dedicate themselves to two works from the beginning of the 20th century. Although the two works were composed only thirty years apart from each other, they could not be any more contrasting: minor against major, dark, mystical and introverted against exciting, suspenseful and sometimes ironic. And yet, in the contrasts of these two concertos, the virtuoso and inspiring interpretation of the Chinese violinist reveals something amazingly unifying. Recorded at Abbey Road, July 2017.
Is Gerald Finley today’s Fischer-Dieskau? I don’t mean to suggest that their voices sound alike or that they share an interpretive perspective. But like his predecessor, Finley is comfortable in opera, oratorio, and song; his repertoire stretches from the Baroque period through Schubert and Wagner to the present; his sense of musical phrase is unfailing; he’s got a sensitivity to literary nuance, coupled with a clarity of enunciation, that few singers can match; and most important of all, his interpretations, for all their emotional immediacy, are marked by an astonishing level of intellect and care. He’s heard in peak form on this new release.
Mitsuko Uchida's recordings continue to win golden opinions on first appearance; and thereafter, which is always the sterner test. It is interesting how often her name appears in "Building a Library" shortlists on BBC Radio 3. Most recently. it was her Philips recording of Schumann's Carnaval (Philips, 5/95) which won the corporation's coveted laurel. This pairing of Beethoven's Third and Fourth Piano Concertos is formidable, too, the playing at once brilliant and sensitive, rigorous and free-spirited.