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CD: Crotchet

Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951)
Symphony No. 3 in D major op. 36 (1894) [38:33]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor op. 54 (1904) [40:14]
Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Bäumer
rec. Stadthalle, Osnabrück, 4, 5, 20, 22 February 2008. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

The shade of the Czech composer Foerster has had to settle for third or fourth league status behind such contemporary countrymen as Suk and Fibich.
MDG have set about a Foerster revival amid the still unfurling repertoire expansion. They made a flying start on the Foerster odyssey with the first two of the five symphonies on  MDG 6321491-2 (see review).
The Fourth Symphony has already had commercial recordings by Kubelik (on 78 shortly after Foerster's death), and Smetacek (both on Supraphon) and by Lance Friedel (Naxos). I have heard the fine Friedel version and I know that it is rated highly by at least one passionate admirer of the Fourth Symphony.
The Third and Fourth are each substantial four movement statements running to about forty minutes - give or take. 
The Third Symphony here receives its first commercial recording. Dvořák is certainly a presence in the first two symphonies and so it proves again in the Third. The Foerster muse is Bohemian, reflective with some Brahmsian flecks. This aspect is apparent in the warm lulling of the andante second movement. When he bustles – as in the allegro molto third, there is a rustic Dvořákian skirl and cheeriness which is very engaging. Drama is one of the components but the temperature is never warmer than say Dvořák 8. This is no disservice as the warmth of the sunset at the close of the finale is as satisfying as say Sibelius's Second. The effect can be likened to that of a very pleasing three bar electric fire; no emotional pyres here. And there’s nothing as neurotically charged as Tchaikovsky Four or Francesca. It is interesting to note that Foerster's friend Gustav Mahler conducted two performances of the Third in April 1896.
The Fourth Symphony carries the title Easter though it does not carry this on the rear insert and the notes tell us that the title was omitted from the first print of the score in 1924. Foerster wrote the symphony in Hamburg in 1904 having been deeply moved by the city's Holy Week atmosphere. The first movement has a steadiness and earnest feeling in which the flames are fanned slowly but with determination. This rises on belling Brucknerian brass at 7:02 in the first movement. Once again the atmosphere is pastoral and cheery; this time with a delightful Slav tinge. The andante predominantly takes the peaceful sway of the Brahms Second Symphony. It is however suffused with the same sun that lit the fields of Josef Suk's Ripening. The finale epitomises the work as a whole: a sunny reflective supplication cast in late summer warmth and light and shade. The language surges within Dvořákian bounds. The final five minutes are wreathed in the roseate glow of romantic victory and beset with confident Brucknerian combers. 
Two pleasingly long-breathed, expansive and satisfying symphonies built to carry the bohemian sunlight. The performances evidently have a sincere fidelity to this vision.
Rob Barnett


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