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Siegmund von HAUSEGGER (1872-1948)
Barbarossa - Symphonic Poem (1899) [49:12]
Three Hymns for baritone and orchestra (1901-2) [15:56]
Hans Christoph Begemann (bass-baritone)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Antony Hermus
rec. 2011, Konzerthaus, Norrköping
Sung texts in German and English
CPO 777 666-2 [65:10]

While Siegmund von Hausegger's life straddled the last two centuries his heyday as a composer was occupied with music of a late nineteenth century aspect. Little known except as a Bruckner conductor who was active too early to have made much of an impression on the Bruckner discography, his production of music has only recently had attention of any sort from any commercial label. CPO is at the Hausegger helm and this is their third such disc. The others have been reviewed here as follows: Natursymphonie and Aufklange (review review).

We are assured that the 'symphonic poem' or 'three-movement symphony', Barbarossa was the greatest success of the composer's lifetime. So it may have been but the work that rings out with enduring triumph from today's perspective is the Natursymphonie. This is not to say that Barbarossa, which is only five minutes shorter than the Natursymphonie, is without attraction.

Barbarossa's three movements are: I: Die Not Des Volkes (Distress of the people); II: Der Zauberberg (Magic mountain) and III: Erwachen (Awakening). Of these the first initially wends its way steadily forward. Its viscous progress then gives way to the image (mine) of rearing and trampling chargers across the storm-rent night sky. The second is not short on delicate spectral atmosphere but this morphs into a capering Brocken phantasm and witches' sabbath. The confident finale is the weakest of the three with melodrama piled high, thick and deep. Dense Tchaikovskian striving finds its way back to the spectral effects of Der Zauberberg but this turns out to be a feint as the score then surrenders itself to heavy-booted or cheerily Teutonic march material. Some thirty years later Franz Schmidt's Hussar Song Variations and several of Siegfried Wagner's scores stand in the same cheerful, even bumptious, tradition - one that in Hausegger's work also suggests a sort of brutal repletion.

The Three Hymns for voice and orchestra set poems by Gottfried Keller whose writing provided the libretto for Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet and the poetry for Othmar Schoeck's Notturno (1933). Stille der Nacht has a Schoek-like fragility and is most delicately orchestrated. Begemann projects a strong line, which is well defined and without bluster. These are indeed hymns, the music of which is undulatingly honeyed. Unruhe der Nacht has a little more drama at its core but this is spliced with anxiety. Unter Sternen has a brighter romantic ring as well as a touch of ecstasy. Its clarity is emphasised by the prominence of the harp and by an energetic upbeat. Still, none of these three hymns approaches anything like a presto. Broadly speaking these can be bracketed with the more placid and centred songs in Wagner's Wesendoncklieder.

The liner-note is in English and German but the English version makes for leaden going and cloaks useful facts and observation in tergiversation.

There's clearly a vivid creative imagination at work but inspiration slides in and out of focus. The place to start with this composer is the Natursymphonie which is the finest work I have heard by Hausegger. For this German composer it has first claim on the music-lover's listening attention. I say this in a world competing for the time you might have set aside to assay music that is new to you.

Rob Barnett



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