Like Korngold's only Symphony (wonderfully done by James de
Preist and the Oregon Symphony on Delos) Weigl's Fifth is dedicated to
the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who died in April 1945). This
tribute to the President of the country that had provided refuge to these
two fluchtlings reflected the affection and high respect in which
they held their saviour country.
Weigl was double-damned in 1930s Vienna - both a Jew
and a Socialist. He had been fêted until the Nazis came to power.
When it came his fall was complete.
As Lloyd Moore's fine notes point out we can now gradually
gain a truer and broader perspective on the range of German music of
the first half of the last century. Korngold, Pfitzner, Schmidt, Weill,
Hessenburg, Schoenberg, Zemlinsky, Schreker and Hartmann can be only
loosely arranged in 'schools'. The 'what ifs' such as Rudi Stephan (1887-1915),
and Heinrich Bienstock (1894-1918) might well have further transformed
the scene but their lives were cut short by the Great War. These two
were, in potential, equally as significant as George Butterworth, Cecil
Cole (celebrated in a recently released Hyperion CD) and Ernest Farrar
Weigl is not a perfect fit with any school. The closest
match is with Bruckner and up to a point with Franz Schmidt. Schmidt
provided his own apocalyptic 'symphony' in the shape of The Book
with Seven Seals which predated the Weigl symphony by about a decade.
Schmidt captures the ghastly and awesome horrors of the pestilential
horsemen with a keener blade than Weigl (compare the Weigl's finale
entitled 'The Four Horsemen'. The axle and anchor of this work is the
Adagio which, at 15.25, is only seconds shorter than the Evocation
first movement. The Adagio proclaims lineage direct to the adagios
of Bruckner's last two symphonies, especially the Eighth. It is a serene
iron and chainmail paean to tragedy. Powerful and eloquent, this is
a statement shot through with golden strands represented by the soulful
brass. The Brucknerian manner, this time, in craggy mode is also encountered
in the finale. So, just when you have made up your mind about this symphony
let me also mention how it starts. The score instructs the orchestral
musicians to enter and tune up (all as an integral part of the work)
then the conductor appears and cues three trombones and a tuba on a
raised platform. Some of the hyper-lyrical manner of Franz Schmidt from
the Second Symphony can be heard in the first movement.
Sanderling and the Berlin orchestra are dedicated though
I sensed a vague hesitancy in their playing which is not found in the
tape of Stokowski rehearsing the American SO for the 1968 premiere.
Such transient issues (completely absent from the great adagio by the
way) are nowhere to be found in their reading of the Intermezzo
(initially the first movement of the Second Symphony). It is a flighty
work with hints of Prokofiev and Dukas and with flashes of Bruckner
along the way. The work has some kinship with the Comedy Overture
recorded by his pupil Peter Paul Fuchs with the Baton Rouge Symphony
[concert recordings only -unpublished]. Fuchs was not the only one to
record Weigl. Fellow Vienna University student Frederic Waldman recorded
the Weigl Violin Concerto with Sidney Harth and the Musica Aeterna orchestra
in LP days.
We now need a complete set of the six symphonies. BIS
have made an auspicious start.
Gwyn Parry-Jones has also listened to this disc
Composers expend a tremendous amount of inspiration
and perspiration on the openings of works, particularly big, public
statements such as symphony, oratorio or opera. Thus Karl Weigl’s Fifth
Symphony, the Apocalyptic, begins with the orchestra tuning up; the
conductor enters while this is happening, and signals to the brass,
who intone a fanfare both angular and portentous. This is a stunning
coup de théâtre, then; but such gestures have their serious
drawbacks. The rest of the work has to live up to the level thus set,
and we can all name works with wonderful openings which don’t quite
bring it off. The best-known ones, in my book, are probably Strauss’s
Also Sprach Zarathustra and Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony – any additions?
I fear that Weigl doesn’t manage to satisfy the great
expectations he arouses either. There is not a single gesture in this
symphony of 1945 which is anywhere near as radical and shocking as the
opening, and therein lies the problem. The piece is in fact, for its
time, a relatively conservative piece, its style unashamedly deriving
from late Romantic German models. It has many beautiful and striking
moments, but in a different sense from that extraordinary commencement.
Weigl was an Austrian Jew, who as a young man worked
with Mahler at the Vienna Opera, regarding his years there as the most
instructive of his life. During the Nazi years, he was, like so many
Jewish artists, gradually blanked out, and, seeing the writing on the
wall, he left for the USA in 1938, where he remained for the rest of
his life. This symphony, composed during the darkest years of World
War II, was dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt, in gratitude for providing
the composer with home and refuge.
There are four movements; the first, entitled ‘Evocation’,
settles down into a broad, complex discussion, based on the brass fanfare
theme mentioned above. The second, in the place of a Scherzo and called
‘The Dance around the Golden Calf’, seems a little tame for its title,
inevitably calling to mind comparisons with Schönberg’s piece of
the same title in Moses und Aaron. The latter is able to fill
his work with a blood-curdling sense of wild abandon, while Weigl’s
is grotesque, almost comical at times, but nowhere near so convincing
in its portrayal of evil at work.
The slow movement, ‘Paradise Lost’, is for me the most
convincing, having many passages of great expressive beauty and intensity,
as well as an ethereal coda, where the ghost of Mahler is felt near
– compare this ending to the closing bars of the first movement of the
latter’s 10th Symphony, for example. The finale, ‘The Four
Horsemen’ (of the Apocalypse, one presumes), again seems too mild to
live up to its title, and, like all the movements, tends to go on too
long for its material.
The Phantastisches Intermezzo contains probably
the most convincing music on the disc. This is from 1921, the ‘Austrian’
part of Weigl’s composing career, as the informative booklet notes describe
it. Like the symphony, it is rather protracted, but here, the material
and the imaginative impulse seem to last the distance far better. This
is the music of a composer still very much ‘in touch’ with the music
of his time, and the detailed orchestration has a French brilliance
to it – I was reminded very much of Dukas – while the Romantic horn
fanfares and chorale-like string passages once more recall Mahler. This
is a movement that might justifiably find its way into the occasional
repertoire of symphony orchestras.
Sanderling and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
perform manfully, with much fine individual playing from wind section,
and rich, disciplined strings. The recording is clear, but doesn’t produce
a convincingly integrated tutti sound, which means that some of the
imposing climaxes carry less weight and conviction than they need.
String Quartet No. 4, viola sonata and songs - Special Limited Private
Edition of 1000 2CD box-sets 50th Anniversary Commemorative Recording
KARL WEIGL FOUNDATION KWF991001-2 [56.25+58.42]
Copies of this limited edition set can be ordered from:
The Karl Weigl Foundation
901 E. Street #300
San Rafael, CA 94901
phone +1 415 526-2043
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