FELIX DRAESEKE = Orchestral Works Vol. 1 & 2: Symphony in G; Symphonia tragica; Piano Concerto; Gudrun Overture; Symphonic Prologue to Penthesilea, Op. 50 – Claudius Tanski, p/ Wuppertal Sym. Orch./ George Hanson – MDG 

Nicely priced rerun for some obscure music.

FELIX DRAESEKE = Orchestral Works Vol. 1 & 2: Symphony in G, Op. 12; Symphonia tragica, Op. 40; Piano Concerto in E-flat, Op. 36; Gudrun Overture; Symphonic Prologue to Penthesilea, Op. 50 – Claudius Tanski, p/ Wuppertal Sym. Orch./ George Hanson – MDG 335 2018 (2 CDs), 73:01 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

Felix Draeseke (1835 – 1913) is a strange dude. A confessed Lisztian/Wagnerian, his whole life seems dedicated to forcing these two idioms into more standard vehicles, even though he wrote eight operas, four symphonies, and thrived on choral music. His orchestration is nothing particularly original, and his intensely contrapuntal methodology belies much of what is found in the greatest works of his two heroes.

He was finally, after many years of uncertain economic stability, able to establish himself in the 1890s after his promotion to professor at the Royal Saxon Conservatory, and was somewhat lionized during his lifetime, especially by Liszt, who gave him unqualified support after hearing Draeseke’s early piano sonata. But though he was performed widely (Hans von Bülow, Arthur Nikisch, Fritz Reiner, and Karl Böhm all conducted him), his music was ultimately determined to be problematic and not likely to catch on widely with audiences. The Third Reich, however, greatly admired him, and surely that endorsement did little to help him in the long run.

This release offers a two-for-one bargain with discs that were recorded 1999 and 2001. Though the piano concerto is played beautifully, and has some interesting and even beguiling harmonies and sonorities, I find it personally a little diffuse in content. And the Op. 12 Symphony is also a work that is mildly entertaining though lacking in ultimate continuity. But with the Symphonia tragica we enter a whole new world and era of the composer, a work with superb melodic and dramatic intensity, equally matching the two tone poems given here, also full of life and gripping experiences.

Performances are first rate, though others might feel the collection more enticing than I do.

—Steven Ritter

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