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BARGIEL: Complete Orchestral Music, Volume I = Symphony in C Major; Overtures: to a Tragedy; Prometheus; Medea – Siberian Sym. Orch./ Dmitry Vasilyev – Toccata Classics

WOLDEMAR BARGIEL: Complete Orchestral Music, Volume I = Symphony in C Major, Op. 30; Overture to a Tragedy, Op. 18; Overture to Prometheus, Op. 16; Overture to Medea, Op. 22 – Siberian Sym. Orch./ Dmitry Vasilyev – Toccata Classics TOCC 0277, 76:04 (11/11/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Woldemar Bargiel (1828–1897) was one of the best-known composers of his day, an important teacher – of Leo Blech and Leopold Godowsky – and Clara Schumann’s half-brother, but his music has been largely forgotten or consigned to the status of an epigone. His only symphony has a Beethovenian drive, and his three published orchestral overtures, symphonic poems in all but name, derive their power from Schumann, with a Brahmsian weight and power. In 1859 Hans von Buelow wrote that “Bargiel can claim the highest rank among Schumann’s followers after Joseph Joachim.”

The 1858 Overture to a Tragedy in E Minor originally meant to depict Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, though it will not soon replace the symphonic poem by Tchaikovsky. The gloomy opening rather resembles Schumann’s Manfred or Genoveva in scoring and disposition of motifs. After five minutes of gloom, the music moves to an Allegro in C Minor which easily falls into (bass) tropes we know from Schumann and Weber. While the music exhibits serious intent, the working out of the four-square theme in sonata-form proves conventional despite the warmth of the string and horn writing, over an active tympani part.

The C Major processional character of the 1852 (rev. 1854 and 1859) Overture to Prometheus resembles a late Beethoven score, such as Coriolan or Consecration of the House. The descending melodic line takes a cue from Mozart’s Tuba mirum from the Requiem. Beethoven, Liszt, and any number of Romantic writers gravitated to the Classical figure of Prometheus, whose name appears in the subtitle to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The bucolic episodes move pleasantly but not memorably through the horns and woodwinds. At its most lyrical, the music could be attributed to Bruch. Another extended pedal point builds to a moving climax, Allegro moderato ma passionato. The initial, martial character of the music returns for the last pages, whose trumpet work reminds me of Dvorak’s The Golden Spinning Wheel.

The 1861 Overture to Medea takes its cue from a five-act staging of the Greek legend by Grillparzer. Franz Wuellner – Mengelberg’s teacher – programmed the overture to be led by the composer in Aachen. Even during the opening Lento we discern a fate motif in four beats, a la Beethoven. The melodic tissue proves more successful here, than in the two prior overtures. Strings, horns, and tympani collaborate effectively to raise a tempest of Medea’s rage against Jason’s decision to abandon her and their children to initiate a new dynastic line. After she slaughters the prospective bride and her father, along with the children Medea bore by Jason, she gleefully confesses, “It’s not that I did not love my babes; I merely hated Jason more.” The last measures convey a cumulative power quite impressive, texturally rich as a lively page in Bruckner.

The Symphony in C Major (1864), although smaller in scale than the Beethoven exercises in symphonic form, borrows heavily from the Bonn master, as well as upon Gade and Schumann. The four-note motif obviously has a certain parallel with Beethoven, and the second subject of the opening Allegro energico (3/4) shares a melodic contour from Haydn. The punctuations in the development might have been lifted from Beethoven’s Egmont. The presto passages smack of the Beethoven Eighth. Yet to deny the slick facility of the writing does it a disservice.

The expansive Andante con moto develops a lovely cello theme into a march, an elegiac serenade with points of bass-motif and contrapuntal correspondence with Beethoven’s Eroica. At several cadences, I am reminded of the Phrygian turns in the Brahms second movement of his E Minor Symphony. The third movement, a Menuet, proceeds in short, rustic phrases, a (polyphonic) cross between Haydn and Bruckner. The trio section plays like a laendler for the French horns, winds, and strings. The finale, Allegro molto, enjoys some quicksilver writing that becomes a march and a hymn, forte. The music has energy, competence, but little that will move us. This is music conceived most academically, devotionally, and in the spirit of the Beidermeier period that serves as a transition from the high courts of music to the domestic level of artisanship. If Bargiel has been “avoiding” sounding like Schumann, the coda reverberates with that master’s Overture, Scherzo, and Finale.

Certainly, we ought to note the high competence of the performers, conductor Dmitry Vasilyev and his Omsk – or Siberian – Symphony, founded in 1966 and sporting some high-level performers, especially in the horns and tympani.

—Gary Lemco

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