PHILIPP SCHARWENKA: Wald- und Berggeister; Dramatische Phantasie; Zwei Polnische Volkstänze – Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg-Gera / Eril Solén – Sterling CDS 1079-2, 56:59 [Distrib. by Qualiton] ****:
Ludwig Philipp Schwarwenka (1847-1917) was the brother of the better known Franz Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924) both Prussian citizens of the Poznan (Posen) area, now in Poland. The family moved to Berlin in 1865 for furthering the boys’ musical education, and they were to become very highly regarded composers and educators. The Scharwenka Conservatory was founded in Berlin in 1881 – Otto Klemperer and Oskar Fried studied with Philipp – and survived under Philipp’s son, Walter until after the Second World War. Helmut Schmidt was an organ pupil and holds the institute in high regard. The New York branch opened its doors in 1891.
Wald- und Berggeister (Forest and Mountain Spirits) seems to take some inspiration from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in its bucolic atmosphere and is an effective miniature. The two Polish Folk Dances, a polonaise and a mazurka, end the disc in gentle high spirits, nicely pointed by Eril Solén and his orchestra.
The Dramatische Phantasie Op.108 dates from around the turn of the 20th century and is a substantial work in three movements. It is rich in invention and mood and splendidly crafted, holding its forty minutes duration with ease. The first movement has grand themes, magnificent without bombast. The second has utterly magical writing for clarinet and harp at its core, superbly played here by Hendrik Schnöke and the unnamed harpist. The final movement alternates between the energetic and poetic and brings a very worthwhile piece to a close.
The Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg-Gera, excellent in all sections, plays with sensitivity and power, and with lovely graded dynamics under Eril Solén, and together make a first-class case for these neglected works. The sound is first-class, rich and warm, befitting the music – the orchestra’s home on this sampling seems to have excellent acoustics. The booklet contains several interesting and informative essays, including a contemporary review of the Dramatic Fantasy.
This valuable issue joins a companion volume of Philipp Scharwenka’s orchestral music on CDS10712 in Sterling’s famously adventurous catalogue. I hope at least one of Scharwenka’s three symphonies arrives on the recorded scene before too long.
— Peter Joelson