Felix Weingartner was an Austrian conductor and composer, whose many compositions included seven symphonies, numerous orchestral and chamber works and a number of operas. Among his contemporaries were Richard Strauss, Mahler and Zemlinsky, and his pupils included noted conductors Paul Sacher, Georg Tintner and Josef Krips. His works were quite popular in his day, although very little of his catalogue is programmed by modern orchestras. The Basel (Switzerland) Symphony Orchestra has a particular connection to the works of Weingartner since he was its musical director and principal conductor from 1927 to 1934. As a conductor, he premiered Bizet’s Symphony in C, and he recorded the first complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies. He was also a noted music journalist, and wrote volumes that are still very highly regarded on the symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. He considered himself, however, first and foremost a composer, and was known to frequently call out anyone’s criticism of his compositions with whatever weapon handy, be that knife, fork or sword! To say that the works of Weingartner are under appreciated is most definitely an understatement.
The two works presented here owe a great deal to the influence of Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler. The opening “Overture” liberally quotes from the French, Russian, British and Austrian national anthems, and is stylistically very similar to Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory. While the work may seem, well, a bit laughable, the orchestra does a great job and plays the piece with conviction. A similar conclusion can be drawn with Weingartner’s Fifth Symphony; while the music clearly hearkens to his many influences, it does contain many very listenable and musically fulfilling passages, even if to his detractors it may seem a bit half-baked. I found both works very enjoyable; it’s a bit puzzling to me that his symphonic output, at the very least, is not more well known to modern audiences.
Sound quality of this disc is nothing short of superb, and the surrounds are employed to give a sufficiently realistic representation of the recorded acoustic. Repeat listenings of this excellent disc have definitely helped me to rethink Weingartner’s place in the musical pantheon; while perhaps not the most original of composers, his music is nonetheless accessible and enjoyable, and with each listen I found more and more to like. He’s essentially the patron saint of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, and stirring performances such as this one deserve our support. Highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs