Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Symphony in E major (fragment) (1832/34) [17.48]
Symphony in C major (1834) [38.41]
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jun Märkl
rec. 17-19 January 2015 & 11 September 2012, MDR Studio
Augustusplatz, Leipzig, Germany NAXOS 8.573413 [56:29]
The music of Leipzig-born Richard Wagner
needs no introduction since his reputation grew considerably as he
began to focus his energy on composing operas. As composers mature, we
are aware that their style and approach to composition changes and
becomes more sophisticated. Wagner’s later operas when compared to his
earlier ones demonstrate this quite clearly. But what about the young
Wagner? Did his early compositions, written when he was a late
teenager, hold promise and provide the foundation for the
transformation that was to later take place? This CD allows the
listener to hear these beginnings in two compositions written between
1832 and 1834.
Perhaps our attention is better directed to Wagner’s Symphony
in C major for an assessment of his quality as an orchestral
composer, since the Symphony in E major was not orchestrated by him.
The C major displays a good compositional technique,
already making extended use of the French horns. The listener is very
much reminded of Beethoven and from these examples it is clear that
Wagner was a follower of this master’s symphonic style. He admitted
that the work was modelled on Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth
Symphonies, performances of which Wagner had attended four years
earlier. This helps explain the influence Beethoven had on him – He
even wrote a piano transcription of the Ninth.
Only a fragment exists of his Symphony in E major and
its orchestration was completed by Felix Mottl (1856-1911), an Austrian
conduictor who had studied at the Vienna Conservatoire. Mottl conducted
many performances of Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth and so had a close
association with the composer. After Wagner’s death, Mottl orchestrated
the manuscript and must have chosen the instrumentation. Although he
achieved successful results, it cannot be fully regarded as what Wagner
have wished to be heard. The Adagio cantabile is particularly engaging
and leaves the listener wishing for more.
During the period of composition of the symphonies,Wagner took up work
in the theatre as choirmaster and musical director and one might have
expected some influence of Weber or even Rossini, but these are not
evident to my ears. A criticism of both symphonies is that their
construction meanders, making repetitive use of figures and phrases.
Throughout, Wagner tends to underuse the top strings, which could have
usefully carried a decorative melody line; where they do contribute it
is a pity that they are not brought further forward by the engineer for
this recording. I did not recognize any motif that might have been
later used in his early operas like Tannhäuser, the lasting
impression is more a tribute to Beethoven.
The notes in English and German by Katy Hamilton provide interesting
detail that gives insight into the background surrounding these early
compositions. However, there is a discrepancy between the composition
dates as shown on the inlay and those in the notes. The recording is
excellent and bathed in a warm acoustic that does justice to the fine
playing of the MDR Radio Symphony Orchestra. Jun Märkl conducts with a
commendable degree of panache.