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Emil Nikolaus von REZNIČEK (1860-1945)
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major Ironic (1905) [25:39]
Symphony No. 5 Dance Symphony (1926) [40:27]
Berner Symphonie-Orchester/Frank Beermann
rec. Kultur-Casino, Bern, 22-23 Apr 2004, Schweitzer Radio DRS-2
CPO 777 056-2 [66:08]

We can now hear much more of Rezniček than just the Donna Diana overture; not that there is anything wrong with that overture nor, so I understand, with the full opera which is still rarely heard.

In fact Rezniček was more a man of the theatre with his most significant operas being Donna Diana premiered in Prague by the composer in 1894, Till Eulenspiegel in Carlsruhe 1902, Ritter Blaubart in Darmstadt in 1920, Holofernes in Berlin in 1923. Spiel Oder Ernst in Dresden in 1930.

The First Symphony is a might leviathan of an hourís length. It was written in 1902 and carries the title The Tragic.

The Second is The Ironic. It is full of playful allusions to Strauss, to Beethoven and Brahms and in the finale seems to look to the Prokofiev of Kije and the Classical Symphony - all purely coincidental. With the Great War over Reznicek completed a Third Symphony in d major In the Old Style and then a Fourth in F minor. His Fifth and last symphony was the Dance Symphony of 1926. This is a major work of forty minutes length. The movement titles are: Polonaise; Csardas; Ländler and Tarantella; they do not tell all. The Polonaise is fantastical courtly piece of considerable grandeur. It is warmly impressionistic rather than Prussian-severe. The Csardas begins with a solo violin and has orchestral episodes of a mystery equivalent to the more morose or spiritual moments in any psychological score by Miklos Rozsa. The Ländler is completely unlike Reger or Schmidt; rather the reference points are Ravel and Joseph Marx but without Marx's intoxicatingly profuse melos. The Tarantella finale is explosive and colourful with tambourine and other 'exotic' percussion; mind you it can also roar like a Bruckner climax as well. The world evoked is equivalent to the expressionist films of that era. One can see how this began as a series of dance episodes but it still has that disparate sense that Rachmaninov manages to avoid in his own Symphonic Dances of fourteen years later. There are magical moments including the singing chiming at 6:01 in the final Tarantella but overall this works as the analogue of film noir fantasy rather than as a symphony.

Erich Kleiber performed the Fifth Symphony in New York in 1931.

As usual the CPO notes are gloriously encyclopaedic.

The performances seem convincing and the recording is lively caught in a grand acoustic.

These are fascinating souvenirs of an era and Rezniček's part in it but the music is not intrinsically compelling.

Rob Barnett



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