SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

FELIX WEINGARTNER (1863-1942): Frühling: Symphonic Poem Op. 80; Symphony No. 6 op.74 in B minor “La Tragica” – Basel Symphony Orchestra/Marko Letonja – CPO

Beware the first 15 seconds of this SACD !!!

Published on August 17, 2009

FELIX WEINGARTNER (1863-1942): Frühling: Symphonic Poem Op. 80; Symphony No. 6 op.74 in B minor “La Tragica” – Basel Symphony Orchestra/Marko Letonja – CPO

FELIX WEINGARTNER (1863-1942): Frühling: Symphonic Poem Op. 80; Symphony No. 6 op.74 in B minor "La Tragica" – Basel Symphony Orchestra/Marko Letonja – CPO multichannel SACD 777102-2, 57:30 ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:

Beware the first 15 seconds of this SACD !!!

If you consider yourself an audiophile, you’d better be prepared to give your opinion on the first 15 seconds of this CPO SACD. Your friends will want to know whether you think the sound is authentic or conjured up by an ultra-digital wizard. You will want to tell in every thrilling detail how your system responds to the challenge.

Despite the fact that the music is a long-forgotten overture by a long-forgotten conductor, something goes on that is at the very heart of the collaboration between music and sound where the two become indistinguishable. What begins indeterminately in the low bass (cellos and basses, although there could also be low brass and perhaps an organ, but only the best systems can reveal detail at that low a frequency range), fluctuating in pitch as if it were in the early days of creation, gradually growls into a richly textured roar. This is exactly the type of classical music moment that audiophiles strive for.

There’s lots more melodramatic musical adventures to come in the 20 minutes of Felix Weingartner’s Frühling [Spring] Overture, written in the mid 1930s. It’s all rather powerful and dramatic and lots of hunting horns and beautiful melodies like music might have been in some glorious parallel universe. It trails off a bit in the last five minutes, but that’s usually the price of ecstasy (from a highly visible and occasionally scandalizing public figure who knew a great deal about ecstasy).

Weingartner’s Sixth Symphony deserves much more space than I have here or time to plot it all out. Suffice it to say that its nickname is well deserved. Imagine this: when Weingartner premiered this in 1933 (with the Vienna Philharmonic, no less), the second, "lighter" half of the program was Beethoven’s Fifth!

The Slovenian conductor Marko Letonja, who led the first five volumes in CPO’s Weingartner series, is the same conductor who collaborated with Isabelle Faust on her amazing Harmonia mundi disc of violin concertos by Jolivet and Chausson. He is strong and brooding, passionate and impulsive, powerful and in control just where he needs to be. The Basel Symphony Orchestra gets inside the music’s skin to an awesome degree for such obscure repertoire; they play with conviction, warmth, daring and great beauty of sound. The recording is magnificent, the space and dimensions noticeably more plastic and embracing on an SACD player.

Eckhardt van den Hoogen’s vivid 15-page, musicological mystery-thriller of an essay on Weingartner’s occasionally scandalous life (I stopped counting at five wives, one of whom improbably bore the moniker of Roxo Betty) and his failure as a composer is delightfully if curiously translated by Susan Marie Praeder into almost correct but not quite correct English (i.e.: "disparate flageolets").

I suppose, all things being equal, the comprehensive Weingartner persona might now have already retreated to a polite eternal resting place. Perhaps it’s unrealistic of one recording to change the course of history, although I do remember when I once thought that the march movement of Raff’s Fifth Symphony on Unicorn vinyl would do the same thing (it didn’t).

– Laurence Vittes

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