I had heretofore known Ernst Pepping
by only one marvelous work, the cerebral
and harmonically challenging Passionsbericht
des Matthäus, a masterpiece that
is woefully under-performed. When I
received this set of the symphonies
and piano concerto, I was expecting
more of the harmonically austere, wintry
aesthetic that permeates the Passion.
To my surprise I heard four works of
tremendous variety, intense yet controlled
emotionally and utterly engaging in
their sheer beauty of soundscape.
The First Symphony opens with
a rather rollicking almost march-like
tune and is filled with interesting
contrapuntal ideas. Its second movement
is more harmonically rich, and rather
depicts a solitary man deep in his thoughts.
I was most taken with Pepping’s ample
use of the winds and brass to make for
unusual and ear-grabbing colors. The
third movement is in a completely different
mood, scampering about like a child
playing in the puddles after a rainstorm.
It closes with an affirming and brief
movement rife with playful mixed meters.
Symphony is in overall tone more serious and direct.
Its opening movement punctuated by dotted rhythms and an
ominous descending theme in the brass. This gives way to
a more airy melody in the strings and winds, but the music
never becomes less than serious. The real beauty comes
in the sublime slow movement. Its reflective and serene
tone is spellbinding. A sprightly major key scherzo brings
the mood back into the daylight, and the work ends with
a majestic finale.
The variety and
originality of this composer’s ideas is remarkable. Written
in a short six year span, the symphonies never become redundant,
each work being original and fresh. The Third Symphony,
with each movement depicting a time of the day, begins with
an optimistic opening movement, somewhat reminiscent of Korngold’s
magnificent film music. The second movement, about the midday
seems the most serious, perhaps reflecting the exertion of
the workday. The evening movement is glowing and restful
with the final movement, Die Nacht, being more turbulent,
hinting at a restless sleep full of bad dreams.
The program is
rounded out with the Piano Concerto of 1950. It is
no less interesting than the symphonies and the added element
of the soloist shows that Pepping was more than capable of
virtuoso display. The solo pianist is not there, however,
for the mere sake of ostentation. Of the works presented,
this is the most jarringly dissonant, which is not to say
that it is in any way discordant. It is purposeful and passionate,
but certainly not very subtle. The solo writing is demanding
and commands a solid technique. The part rather demands the
listener’s attention. The glowing second movement is a thing
of sheer beauty, even if that beauty is a bit icy. The finale
is as thrilling as a good carnival ride.
There is superb
playing from both orchestra and soloist throughout this entire
program. Particular mention should go to the wind and brass
sections of the Northwest German Philharmonic. This music
calls on them heavily for both color and melodic interest.
Werner Andreas Albert has made quite a few fine recordings
for CPO and this is no exception. Once again, this company
has given us a couple of hours of splendid listening that
we are not likely to get anywhere else. Here’s a challenge
to some adventuresome orchestra: program one of these pieces!
If there is one
criticism that I frequently have of CPO it is their tendency
toward wordy, rambling Dickensian translations of overly
esoteric program notes. Even with two music degrees and then
some under my belt, I quickly lose interest in the overtly
academic tone of notes from this company’s releases. I think
it comes from the complexity of the German language, and
the notes seem to me to be a direct translation. They never
capture the spirit of English very well and leave me cold.
Having said that,
no one should shy away from grabbing this fine release. Gorgeous
music beautifully played in first rate sound. Highly recommended.
see also review by Rob Barnett