> Hans Rott - Symphony in E major [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Hans ROTT (1858-1884)
Symphony in E major (1880)
Pastorales Vorspiel (1877-80)
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies
Recorded at ORF Studio, Sendesaal ORF, August 1998
CPO 999 854-2 [71.03]


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The ‘discovery’ of the Rott Symphony by Dr. Paul Banks in the 1980s was a truly fascinating event. Here was the major work by an exact contemporary of Mahler, a fellow student at the Vienna Conservatory, but a tragic figure destined for an early death in an asylum. His subsequent neglect was inevitable, and very few of his manuscripts survived, so Banks’s musicological find was all the more important, particularly for those interested in the heady, post-Wagnerian Viennese style. The 1989 recording which followed (from Hyperion – who else?) gave us all the chance to judge for ourselves whether it had all been worthwhile. The general consensus was that here indeed was a remarkably assured musical voice, indeed one that displayed uncanny pre-echoes of Mahler himself, though these parallels were taken to ridiculous extremes. Some writers began pointing to plagiarism on Mahler’s part, and one began to feel that somehow every sign of originality that we know and love in Mahler had been purloined from the Rott Symphony. Thankfully, all that has died down, and this new recording from Dennis Russell Davies gives us a chance to re-appraise the piece in the cool, clear light of day.

The Hyperion disc featured a student orchestra, the Cincinnati Philharmonia, and excellent though they are, it has to be said straightaway that the general quality of playing on the new version is a notch above. This is apparent from the opening, a magnificent Brucknerian vista which unfolds majestically before us, the trumpet and horn intoning an ‘urthema’ of epic dimensions. In fact, the spirit of Bruckner (and, inevitably, Wagner) is never far away, and only fleetingly do I sense Mahler’s presence. The most obvious place is the scherzo, where one is indeed brought up short by what appears to be a distorted version of the ländler from Mahler 1. Elsewhere (for instance 5.10 into the first movement) one senses ‘snippets’ that appear to be familiar from Mahler works, but my own overriding impression is of a talented composer coming from the same ‘stable’ as Mahler, and sharing the same tradition and lofty ideals as to how symphonic form should progress. Russell Davies certainly allows more ‘breathing space’ for the ideas to develop, and he also keeps a tighter rein on some of the more unwieldy material, particularly in the finale. Rott’s orchestration is a little clumsy and densely textured in places (I’m sure a performance would have caused the composer to put much of this right) and here the greater experience and professionalism of Davies and his Vienna forces pays dividends.

The addition of a filler also adds to the interest of the disc, but in reality the Pastorales Vorspiel seems nothing more than warmed-over Wagner, a real student piece with clear echoes of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. No, the Symphony’s the thing, and to anyone interested in the development of the form during the late Romantic period, this is really unmissable. There has been another recording (from Leif Segerstam) which I am not familiar with, but this CPO version must now surely be the one to have if you want to investigate this fascinating and rewarding piece.

Tony Haywood

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