REZNICEK: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 – Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie/ Frank Beermann – CPO

REZNICEK: Symphony No. 3 in D Major; Symphony No. 4 in F Minor – Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie/ Frank Beermann – CPO 777 637-2, 71:14 (9/9/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ***: 

It used to be common currency to speak of Emil von Reznicek (1860-1945) as a “singular success,” since his reputation rested on our familiarity with the Donna Diana Overture. Recent scholarship and musical investigations, however, have revised our estimate of Reznicek’s rather substantial output, in both symphonic and operatic composition. The two symphonies led by conductor Frank Beermann (rec. 6-10 September 2010) had their original debuts under Artur Nikisch, who often premiered works soon after the completion: the Symphony No. 3 in D Major (1918) and the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor (1919).

The Symphony in D opens with a combination hymn and folk melody the composer claimed derived from the fifteenth century. The bucolic spirit of the piece finds an elevated affect in the use of four French horns. The music of Schubert appears in the form of a quotation from the D Major Marche militaire; another fillip seem to derive from the Trout Quintet. The militant sensibility seems to extend to hints of Mahler, yet the relatively light textures might suggest Goldmark as a possible influence. We have some strict counterpoint, again in the manner of Mahler or Weinberger. As we move into the recapitulation the Schubert allusions become stronger, now mixed a distinct Wagnerian flavor, namely from Tannhauser.  So, what to think: merely clever derivatives?

The Andante opens in the manner of a wind and string serenade, as if Dvorak had been cross-fertilized by Mozart, occasionally colored by Twentieth-Century harmony. The melody proceeds in fragments, with a violin concertante accompanied by winds. The music then proceeds on sweet, idyllic kernels and interior color combinations, a strategy we know from Delius. The third movement, Tempo di minuetto, bears a certain rustic, laendler-like  carriage attributable to the post-Bruckner school that wants to court Haydn in harmonically askew terms without too many concessions to the avant-garde. The Allegro con anima raises the specter of Felix Mendelssohn’s saltarello, except the round dance meanders to all sorts of foreign keys, with a brief central section in D-flat that has expressive power.

Reznicek would rather flourish his color arsenal than develop any long-spun melody, and the ostinati too often reflect Schubert’s D Major Symphony. But the essential rural atmosphere prevails, and the last pages express some sincere sense of pageantry.

The F Minor Symphony seems to rely on Richard Strauss as much as the D Major leans on Schubert.  Allusions to Beethoven and Wagner in the opening Moderato pesante ensue, and we again wonder how much of a musical epigone Reznicek will remain. The cello bass line hearkens to the recitative elements in the Ninth Symphony, while the tympani-accompanied schwung of the development theme and the aerial antics of the horns beckon to Bruckner and Mahler. The structure becomes decidedly periodic over held pedal points, another Bruckner strategy. The light, quasi-fugato figures that serve as an extended coda finally modulate to an illuminated peroration.

Much in the manner of Mahler’s scherzo-grotesques, Reznicek’s second movement bears the marking Trauermarsch auf den Tod eines Komoedianten, a parody dirge with elegiac interludes. Is this Reznicek’s answer to Gounod’s Funeral March for a Marionette, only on an epic scale? The spirit of this music lies close to Shreker. The funereal pace owes something to The Clock Symphony of Haydn, cross-fertilized by post-WW I sarcasm. The key structure more than once “borrows” its progressions from Schubert’s Ninth Symphony second movement, however the blaring brass work may conceal it. The scherzo (Allegro molto) moves according to Bruckner principles, set in four-square periods. When we realize the nature of Reznicek’s last movement – marked Variationen ueber ein eigenes Thema – as a theme, variants, fugue, and coda, we wonder if Brahms of the E Minor Symphony hasn’t served a model all along. While at all times colorful and syntactically competent, little by way of original inspiration strikes us, as all too derivative and academic – now, the F Major Brahms Symphony – its expressive power remains. A musically intriguing ride, these works, but they constitute more of a test of our ability to name their influences.

—Gary Lemco

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