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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Egon WELLESZ (1885-1974)
Symphony No. 4 Op. 70 Sinfonia Austriaca (1951-53) [27.56]
Symphony No. 6 Op. 95 (1965) [23.18]
Symphony No. 7 Op. 102 Contra Torrentum (1968) [18.58]
Radio Symphonieorchester/Gottfried Rabl
rec. Grosser Sendesaal, Funkhaus ORF, 13-16, 26-27 Nov 2001. DDD
CPO 999 808-2 [70.44]


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In the thorny company of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies the Fourth declares its faith in its romantic roots. With a title like Sinfonia Austriaca I was expecting something as epic in scale as Furtwängler's Second Symphony, Karl Weigl's Fifth Symphony The Apocalyptic or Franz Schmidt's Second. In fact the latter is a close cousin with rustic charm meeting tortured massed violin writing and cresting French horns. That simple charm also echoes through the finale. Certainly Wellesz does not dabble in Mahlerianisms. The eloquent confidence of the string anthem at 3.03 in the adagio impresses deeply. The symphony was premiered on 11 November 1956 in Vienna conducted by Rudolf Moralt who made a fine 1950s recording of the Schmidt Fourth Symphony.

The other two symphonies are cut from uncompromisingly dissonant material - not particularly extreme. The level of challenge is similar to the symphonies of Benjamin Frankel though Wellesz is more doom-laden and despairing. Havergal Brian might be another reference point against which to measure these works. The level of discontinuity, episodic progress is fairly high. if this is organic progress it is deeply subsumed. In the middle movement of the Sixth (the last five of Wellesz's nine symphonies are in three parts) Wellesz's hallmark of articulating a theme by passing it note by note to different instruments gives a feeling of mosaic. The themes themselves are not playful but speak of the distraught, the impacted and the tragic. Moments of light do occasionally float into sharp focus as in the rural caprice of 4.48 in the finale of the Sixth. These are moderated if not dispelled by spasms and shudders of cold permeating the winter sunshine. In fact the Sixth ends in quiet repose while the Seventh shouts in tragedy - an angrily magnificent brass gesture. The Seventh is in much the same determined, spasm-driven, mosaic mind-set as the Sixth. Wellesz tumbled or propelled himself down an avant-garde slope to a far greater degree than the likes of Karl Amadeus Hartmann. He is close to the style of Humphrey Searle in his last three symphonies or to curdled late Frank Bridge (Second Piano Trio, Phantasm and Oration). He is never dull or prolix (look at the durations of the later two symphonies) and always displays brilliance in instrumental texture. All the same many will find this harder going and should be aware that Wellesz branched out into restless waters from the 1960s onwards.

The two later symphonies were respectively premiered on 23 June 1966 at Nüremberg with Michael Gielen conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and 21 November 1968 with Hugo Rignold conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Rignold (who recorded grand versions of Bliss's Music for Strings and Meditations on a Theme of John Blow for Lyrita in the mid-1960s with the CBSO) championed most of the later symphonies on the BBC Third Programme. Indeed many of us know these works from those very tapes.

The conductor's note about the recording process tells us that Wellesz's printed scores and mss were littered with errors. Time oppressed the elderly composer and a harvest of misprints and mistakes was the result. Fortunately the conductor Gottfried Rabl was able to examine sketches and galley proofs at the National Library in Vienna and made all necessary corrections.

The notes, typically encyclopedic for CPO, are by Hannes Heher.

Wellesz fled to England in the face of the Nazi insurgency of the 1930s. It is encouraging to see his music taken up again by Viennese forces. He is a serious and unsettling composer who merits a voice. My understanding is that, longer term, CPO will record all nine Wellesz symphonies.
Rob Barnett

 



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