> Felix Draeseke - Symphony No.2 [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Felix DRAESEKE (1835-1913)
Symphony no.2 op. 25 in F major
Serenade op.49 in D major
Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR/Jörg-Peter Weigle
Recorded Grosser Sendesaal des Landesfunkenhauses Niedersachsen des NDR, Hannover, September 1998 and November 1999
CPO 999 719-2 [66:13]


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Felix Draeseke is described in the accompanying booklet to this CD as ‘a composer’s composer’; not a promising introduction, really! And it proves to be borne out by the quality of the music in the 2nd Symphony in F. It is worthy, well-crafted, and original in some details but ultimately quite dull, and lacking in sufficient individuality of character to allow it to stand out in what after all is one of the most densely populated areas of music history – the late 19th century. In more recent times, his reputation was done lasting harm by his being enthusiastically promoted by the Nazis as "… one of the most pure-blooded German musicians".

It’s something of a surprise to find that in his life-time he was strongly associated with the New German school of Liszt and Wagner. The first movement of the 2nd symphony in particular seems stolid and essentially conventional, with far less adventurous harmonic and other stylistic elements than one finds in works by Brahms or Dvořák at this time (1871). Though the performances here are fine, the music seems noisy, going through the motions without getting anywhere very much. The second movement, Allegretto marziale, though, is much more interesting, and has glimmers of originality. The ending is arresting, as are the sudden tuckets of horns and trumpets, which bring to mind Bruckner or even Mahler.

But this is easily the best part, and the scherzo returns to the noisy meanderings found in the first movement. The finale begins attractively with a jolly little theme presented in the woodwind. But soon, Draeseke’s earnest tendencies get the better of him; the music’s invention sags continually, and episodes are extended just that bit too far.

The Serenade is a different matter; here, by its very title, Draeseke was declaring that he was writing something of light character, and the opening Marsch has pre-echoes certainly of Mahler (think of the first Nachtmusik in the 7th Symphony), but also faintly of Prokofiev in cheeky mood. The Ständchen which follows is equally charming, with a beautifully taken 'cello solo by Nicolai Schneider, though the recording has caught, unfortunately, the noisy inhalations and sucking noises that 'cellists seem to be particularly bad at. This recording may encourage him to stop doing it! The Liebes-szene (Love-scene) that follows contains some particularly lovely woodwind writing, sensitively realised by the players here, while the fourth movement, a Polonaise, has a real spring in its step and a delightfully witty ending.

The finale begins as if it is going to take a much more serious turn, and oddly it is probably the least light of the five movements – a touch of perversity on Draeseke’s part there. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this Serenade; for those wanting to explore this undeniably interesting composer, I have to say I would skip the rather dreary symphony and proceed straight to the Serenade!

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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