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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Friedrich Ernst FESCA (1789-1826)
Symphony No. 2, op. 10 in D (ca. 1809) [25:26]
Symphony No. 3, op. 13 in D (1816) [28:25]
Cantemire Overture [7:13]
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Frank Beermann
Recorded 25-28 September and 6-9 November 2001 in Hanover DDD
CPO 999 869-2 [61:04]


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Of all the record labels in the world, CPO has the finest knack for finding interesting obscure music, recording fine performances thereof, and packaging the whole thing in a most attractive way. It has scored a winner once again with these first-rate renditions of symphonies by one heretofore-unsung Friedrich Ernst Fesca, who has been handed the unjustifiable sentence of obscurity simply for having suffered the hapless misfortune of having come to maturity in the omnipresent shadow of Beethoven.

Born into a family that harbored both amateur and professional musicians, Fesca came into the world surrounded by favorable conditions for his musical development. His talent was recognized early on and he was given a thorough musical education, and began a career as a violinist that took him to some of Germany’s major musical capitals. His skill as a composer also came to light early, and he became rather widely respected for his violin concerti (now lost) and for a number of string quartets. It was not until slightly later in his brief life that his skill as a symphonist was recognized and he enjoyed both critical acclaim and wide collegial respect in that genre during his lifetime. Regrettably for an entire generation of composers, the public’s acceptance of Beethoven’s symphonies as the gold standard caused a mountain of worthy music to fall into complete obscurity after about 1840.

It is fortunate for us, who live in a world completely saturated by recordings of the standard repertoire, that companies such as CPO have come into being with a mission to restore worthy music to the public access, and for this, all lovers of great music should be eternally grateful.

Fesca’s symphonies are at once captivating to listening. The second symphony opens with a lovely slow introduction, played impeccably by the NDR Radiophilharmonie’s wind section. The harmonic structure is a bit of a Brahmsian foreshadow, and the listener is immediately captivated by curiosity. When the strings enter with the main theme, however, we are off to the races with all of the characteristic devices one would expect of an 18th century symphony. The respect shown to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is evident from the beginning, but Fesca’s voice is certainly original, and his thematic material and structural devices are at once captivating.

String writing is rather more virtuosic that one would expect in an orchestral work of this period, due much to Fesca’s standing as one of the leading violinists of his day. Of particular merit is the splendid third movement of the second symphony, cast in ternary form, in which a wonderful minor key tarantella surrounds some lovely wind writing in the major key b-section. The style of the scherzo movements in both symphonies is forward looking, and a listener familiar with Brahms’ work will immediately recognize that they are hearing what would have been a "taste of things to come" had they been present for the first performance.

The NDR Radiophilharmonie plays impeccably, with perfect intonation and flawless rhythmic ensemble. Frank Beermann has a fine ear for balances and an excellent sense of line, ebb and flow. They play with an enthusiasm that is infectious, and the purposefulness with which they deliver this music speaks volumes to their commitment to bring these fine works to new life.

Sound quality is above reproach and as always, CPO have given us a lengthy and informative essay about the music, well-written and with the ideal balance between academics and anecdotes. Each new disc from this company brings new joys, and there is not a single thing to disappoint about this release. Recommended without a moment’s hesitation.

Kevin Sutton


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