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Symphony No.1 in E major op.5 (1908) [47:54] Pictures and Tales Op.2 (1922) [12:08]
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Jürgen Bruns
rec. 2018, Ludwigshafen, Philharmonie CAPRICCIO C5365 [60:02]
Like so many other musicians of Jewish heritage, Karl Weigl was forced to flee Austria in 1938 following the Anschluss, and lived in America, teaching and composing until his death in 1949.
Born in Vienna, musically he was tonally conservative, refusing to bow to the slowly increasing hegemony of Schoenbergian serialism, and he worked under Mahler at the Vienna Court Opera. His first symphony was premiered in Zürich in 1910 with considerable success. His symphonic style as represented in this early work (he composed six symphonies) is not particularly strong on memorable melody, although his orchestration is, at times, imaginative and interesting, and this, together with a strong sense of structure and forward drive, makes this work an attractive listening experience.
The first movement Leicht bewegt (lightly flowing) is mostly quite soothing with lyrical interplay paramount. His indebtedness to Brahms is most evident when he combines strings with horn, and there are plenty of those moments in the first movement, which moves serenely, with slowly gathering intensity and darkness towards an impactive climax, preceded by drum beats and culminating in a brass dominated furore. Whether one can hear Mahlerian style in the movement is debatable, but the aforementioned climax is impressive, although either the recording or his scoring lends a degree of cloudiness to the sound as the instrumental combinations build up a head of steam.
The first three movements are roughly equal in length, differing by only a minute or so, and the second, marked Sehr lebhaft (very lively), is a sort of galumphing, jittery dance – think of clumsy dancing with hobnailed boots on, composed around a fugue, and you might get an idea. At nearly 14 minutes, I think that it is too long for its material, and Weigl could have reduced it by one third to its advantage.
The slow movement marked Langsam (slowly), should form the emotional core of the symphony, but I find it rather disappointing. Its dynamic level is quiet for nearly all its length, and the climax, if can be called that, is weak. Melodically, its thematic material is pleasant but undistinguished, with the bulk of the scoring is given to strings, sometimes supported by the horn with occasional woodwind interjections.
The last movement is marked Lebhaft (lively), which is a very accurate description of its content. It has a lot of charged forward momentum, with dance and march-like elements leading up to a furiously accelerated whirlwind within which the brass cap the movement and the whole symphony.
The CD is completed by Weigl’s Op.2 Pictures and Tales, originally written as short piano pieces, which he orchestrated in 1922 as a suite for small orchestra. It is a most charming effort, the opening piece ‘Once Upon a Time’ begins with luscious harp chords, followed by delicate woodwind and strings. The succeeding pieces portray fairy-tale worlds, such as ‘Elves Dancing in the Moonlight’, ‘On the Grave of the Sleeping Beauty’, and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. It makes delightful, at times Mendelssohnian listening.
The CD comes in a standard jewel case encased in a cardboard sleeve. The booklet notes are in German and English. The recording is fine, as is the orchestral playing.
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