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Felix DRAESEKE (1835-1913)
Quintet in B flat major for horn, violin, viola, cello and piano,Op.48 [37.17]
Romance in F major for horn and piano, Op.32 [04.06]
Adagio in A minor for horn and piano,Op.31 [07.20]
Sonata in B flat major for clarinet and piano, Op.38 [24.41]
Pascal Moragučs (clarinet), Hervé Joulain (horn), Lisa Schatzman (violin), Marie Chilemme (viola), David Pia (cello), Oliver Triendl (piano)
rec. June 2015, Dreifaltigkeitsbergkirche, Regensburg, Germany

Felix Draeseke - one of those names one encounters when reading biographies of other composers, in this case Liszt and Wagner. He was born in 1835 in Coburg, a town then in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but now in Bavaria. He trained in the Leipzig Conservatory from 1852 to 1854, when he left, because he had become very much under the spell of Liszt and Wagner and considered that Leipzig was too conservative. By 1861 he was a fully committed member of the New German School and experienced a near riot, when his ‘Germania’ march was performed in Weimar, and critics described him as “an especially dangerous beast” within the New German School. He subsequently emigrated to Switzerland but returned to Germany (Dresden) in 1876.

This CD – splendidly produced to the highest standards of performance, recording and accompanying documentation, presents us with four chamber works by Draeseke – a large horn quintet playing for over 37 minutes, a clarinet sonata of 25 minutes and two short horn and piano pieces – a Romance of 4 minutes and an Adagio of 7 minutes. All have been recorded before on such German labels as AK-Coburg and CPO.

The Clarinet Sonata was composed in 1887 and I see that Brahms composed his clarinet sonatas in 1894, so Draeseke cannot be accused of specific undue influence. However, he did spend about three years’ training in Leipzig, and will have absorbed the classical mindset that its conservatory was famed for in those days. It has good melodies and a strong differentiation of mood across the four movements. In particular the seven minute first movement, an allegro, is a delight, opening with a lilting theme on the clarinet with gentle piano accompaniment, followed by the theme on the piano. The rest of the movement continues with a flurry of notes, leading into a jauntier second subject, and then a recurrence and development of all themes. The movement could almost be described as Schubertian in its melodic fecundity. Quite how critics could ascribe the term ‘especially dangerous beast' to the writer of this movement is beyond me – but perhaps his compositional style had changed in the twenty-six years since the ‘Germania' episode.

The second movement, almost as long as the first, is a contrasting andante that opens quietly on the piano, to be joined a few seconds later by the clarinet, both singing gently. The remainder of the movement is a continuous dialogue between the two instruments and is very fine melodically. The third movement is a bubbly humorous scherzo, not, I think, as memorable in its subject matter as the two preceding movements, but it certainly gives the players plenty to do. It is the shortest movement at four and a half minutes. The last movement is a rapid Rondo.Allegro con Brio, with rapidly alternating themes. There are brilliant passages for both players and I suspect that it is not easy to play. It is the same length as the first movement.

The two shortest works on the CD are both for horn and piano and were composed side by side in 1885. The Romance in F Major is the shorter of the two at just 4 minutes. It is a pleasant piece based on one theme, elaborated and repeated on both instruments. The Andante in A minor is rather more substantial, being nearly twice as long as its sibling and is a little melancholy, a least to begin with. Eventually, the piano introduces a sprightly secondary theme and when it is taken up by the horn, both instruments join together leading to a climax. The melancholy mood returns and the piece ends quietly.

Finally, we come to the longest work on the disc; the Horn Quintet. I gather from German websites that this piece is starting to enjoy some degree of popularity, presumably because of the limited number of similar works available to horn players. By that I do not wish to imply that it is second rate, quite the reverse. In four movements, the first is as substantial affair, not quite as light and sunny as the corresponding movement in the clarinet sonata, beginning with an abrupt descending theme for all the instruments, which is then repeated and followed by the lyrical main theme. The piano presents a second theme followed by the other instruments. The movement continues with these themes being repeated and intermingled leading to a decisive coda. It is quite noticeable that the horn is rather restrained, functioning as an equal member of the ensemble, rather than a leader; in fact it might be said that the piano is primus inter pares. The second movement – andante grave – certainly begins gravely on the strings and piano, the horn stealing in quietly a few measures in. It is a beautifully lyrical opening, which catches my attention particularly well. As the movement proceeds, things become rather more vigorous, even occasionally emphatic, but ultimately restrained again. The composer is liberal with his invention – I think that there are at least four separate themes to the movement. The third movement is a lively dance – marked presto leggiero – which undoubtedly keeps all concerned on their toes. I find it the least distinctive of all the movements. The last movement begins with the opening theme of the first movement, and although I did not at first consider that theme to be particularly memorable, I instantly recognised it on hearing it again. The booklet says that this movement has a complicated structure with four principal themes developed contrapuntally. Well, be that as it may, Draeseke has created a movement that rounds off a most inventive work in a satisfactory manner that leaves this listener well satisfied.

As to influences, well given his avowed membership of the New German School, I have been surprised to find myself occasionally thinking of Mendelssohn, then Brahms or Schumann. Certainly Liszt has not entered my head, but then I am unfamiliar with his small chamber music output, and the piano writing does not bring any of Liszt's to mind. Perhaps had I heard any if Draeseke's orchestral music from the 1860’s, I might have been reminded of Liszt or Wagner.

So, I don't feel that he has a particularly individual style, but that is no bar to enjoyment, and I would not be surprised if more horn players start to look at this piece, though any taking it up should be aware that the horn writing does not dominate the other instruments.

I mentioned earlier that the CD is produced to a very high standard and I wish to reiterate it. The booklet even reproduces the elaborate frontispieces of the first published editions of each work, and in the booklet and on the back of the CD case mention is made that the CD has been produced as a coproduction with the Joachim-Wollenweber-Edition of music scores, with CD’s like this one being released as new scores are published – a most impressive statement.

Jim Westhead



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