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Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951)
Symphony No. 1 op. 9 (1887-88) [29:27]
Symphony No. 2 op. 29 (1892-93) [44:35]
OsnabrŁck Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Bšumer
rec. Stadthalle, OsnabrŁck, 28-29 March 2007 (2); 29-31 May 2007 (1). DDD
Experience Classicsonline

These are the works of an out-and-out 19th century Central European romantic. Foerster wrote five symphonies, 350 songs† and six operas of which Eva has been recorded by Marco Polo. In December last year his Violin Concerto No. 1 put in a rare appearance at The Barbican.

The Second Symphony appears first on the disc. It is a work of DvořŠkian affability. The opening allegro is something of an amiable amble amid leafy Bohemian woodland with birdsong decoration. Thereís also a theme which sounds like a second cousin to the Hymn in Finlandia and a zesty torque suggesting DvořŠk 8 as the inspiration. The second movement is a very sombre then gradually very romantic (rather Rachmaninovian at 4.45) essay. We return strongly to DvořŠk with a peppy yet pointed and elegantly gentle Allegro. The finale has Brahmsian accents in the manner of the Third Symphony with overtones of early Josef Suk as in the rather magical violin solo at 6:10. The effect is rather like that of DvořŠk's Othello on the one hand and Brahms' Tragic Overture on the other. One can even pick out a feminine theme or two which might suggest Desdemona. The finale is the most original of the four with a swinging carillon climax at 7:13. 

The First Symphony is much shorter - only half an hour. After a musing introduction the music takes on a plunging open-air quality with a downy violin-chased silver filigree at 2:03. It is even rather Tchaikovskian in the manner of Symphony No. 4. It ends with a nice rocking motion curving down to repose (4.22). This is followed by an affable summery Andante. The allegretto scherzando (III) - which here goes rather ploddingly - touches base with the innocence of Elgar's Wand of Youth music. The Allegro energico makes way for stern echoes of Glazunov's Stenka Razin and the Liszt tone poems but all crafted with the suaveness of DvořŠk. The work ends upbeat; a brass paean rings out with a grandeur that carries an undercurrent of Russian Orthodox chant. 

We know the Foerster 4th Symphony from Naxos and several Supraphon recordings so I hope that the next disc will give priority to the unknown Symphonies 3 and 5. 

Hermann Bšumer is to be congratulated on the results here. He is already known for his BIS recording of Leifs' Edda 1 but I also look forward to hearing his recording of Karl HŲller's symphonies 1 and 2. 

Here are two symphonies rooted in, but not weighed down by, a heritage in DvořŠk and Brahms. Foerster declares his individuality in the many subtle and often soloistic episodes in this music. He looks forward especially to Suk and across the garden fence to Tchaikovsky.

Rob Barnett



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