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Heinrich SCHULZ-BEUTHEN (1838-1915)
Symphony No. 5 Reformationshymnus Op. 36 (1884) [18.18]
Die Toteninsel - symphonic poem (1909) [11.33]
Neger-Lieder und Tänze Op. 26 (1880) [15.55]
Abschiedsklänge Op. 28 (1880) [7.33]
Anastasiya Sidelnikova (organ)
Moscow SO/Adriano
Rec: Aug 2002, Large Hall, Moscow State Conservatory and Mosfilm Studios DDD
STERLING CDS-1049-2 [53.27]
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This adventurous album is released in Sterling’s ‘Deutsche Romantiker’ series and, once again, we have Adriano to thank for unearthing more interesting Late Romantic gems. As he says in his erudite notes (for this album he also edited the manuscript of the main work, Schulz-Beuthen’s ‘Reformation Symphony’), the works of Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss have tended to overshadow so much other Late Romantic German music of which the work of Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen is just one example.

Schulz-Beuthen’s Symphony No. 5 (The Reformation Symphony) is, as Rob Barnett has pointed out in his review of this recording also on this site, is based on Martin Luther’s 1529 hymn, Ein fest burg ist unser Gott. Schulz-Beuthen may well have had Luther’s 400th anniversary in mind when he composed this 18+ minute work. The opening movement opens powerfully and proceeds in pomp and swagger with chivalric motifs and grand flourishes for music that Elgar would have marked nobilmente. Indeed there is a little to remind one of Elgar here; but there is, alas, just that bit of banality too that reminds this reviewer of music for the silent cinema. The second more successful movement begins with the organ, cello and later woodwinds in a quieter lyrical mood, intoning a theme, the beauty of which develops with each repetition. This theme alternates with louder, dignified, stately ecclesiastical material. The third movement returns to the swagger of the first movement with fanfares blazing. The finale builds on this mood so that the work ends after a solemn processional, and serener solo religioso material for the organ, in a huge climax like that of Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. Although this symphony can in no way rival that work or Alexander Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra, it has to be an action adventure film director’s dream.

The most satisfying work in this programme is Die Toteninsel (The Isle of the Dead) composed in 1909. It is every bit as dramatic and effective as Rachmaninov’s more famous composition and Max Reger’s version within his Böcklin Suite. [Böcklin seems to have been very preoccupied with this subject for he painted this gloomy but powerfully evocative scene in five different versions between 1880 and 1886]. The power of the opening with darkly commanding throaty brass has great impact and creates a brooding, funereal atmosphere. This material on each of its successive return carries more than a hint of menace and there is a very atmospheric and convincing evocation of the little boat sailing over deep and turbulent waters towards the mysterious island with its towering mausoleum cliffs and cypress trees. But Schulz-Beuthen also has a luscious romantic theme for his lyrical interludes suggesting the loves and serener domestic life of the deceased and the expressive cello solo in the centre of the tone poem hints at some personal tragedy or loss.

The Negro Songs and Dances are charming and unpretentious melodious little pieces that may have originated in the U.S.A. but sound equally middle-European in Schulz-Beuthen’s adaptations. The best-known piece is the well-known song Oh Susannah! - given a nicely sentimental, nostalgic air here. The opening Allegro animato trips and trots along genially with plenty of exercise for the triangle which returns upstage in the merry dance that is the fourth Allegro movement. The second piece, Moderato assai is a bitter sweet salon confection that yearns and sighs - and it might well have been penned by Brahms. Tambourine is to the fore with brass interjections in the Allegretto con spirito, gaio assai. This is followed by the coy sad little Moderato, molto malinconico. In higher spirits comes an Allegretto scherzando, a rustic dance that bubbles and laughs its way along. An Andantino doloroso brings back the clouds but the piece ends in determined optimism (Solenne e maestoso: Andante) with fanfares dominating over cosy nostalgia.

The equally charming Sounds of Farewell is a little suite for strings that seems to carry over the character and atmosphere of the Negro Songs and Dances into its vivacious opening movement, there are those lively trotting rhythms and the nostalgic cosiness again. The second movement is a lovely sweeping, yearningly romantic melody that had me thinking of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. The Allegretto moderato, third movement trips along prettily and then proudly shrugs in its centre. The fourth piece is quieter and autumnally reflective.

Once again Adriano has unearthed some appealing music that deserves to be more widely known – particularly Schulz-Beuthen’s version of The Isle of the Dead. This may not be the cream of Late Romantic German music but it could lay claim to being near ‘the top of the milk’.

Ian Lace

See also Review by Rob Barnett

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