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Xaver SCHARWENKA (1850-1924)
Overture (1869) [9.20]
Symphony in C minor (1882) [41.21]
Andante religioso (1881) [7.36]
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Fifield
Rec. Gävle, Sweden, 20-23 Oct 2003. DDD
STERLING CDS-1060-2 [58.22]

Both Paderewski and Scharwenka were piano lions who explored other musical genres beyond the obvious. Paderewski’s wrote just one opera Manru. It has been recorded by Dux who are awaiting funding to support a CD release. Scharwenka, another gladiator of the keyboard, wrote his only opera Mataswintha in the 1880s. This is still unrecorded. Paderewski was Polish; so was Scharwenka, although his birthplace was in Posen, in 1850 a province of Eastern Prussia. Paderewski has a single piano concerto to his name; his compatriot has four. Earl Wild played both the Paderewski and one of the Scharwenka four. Both composers toured the world, wearying themselves with concert after concert. Scharwenka and Paderewski wrote a single Symphony as also did fellow Pole Karlowicz. While the Paderewski Symphony is of Mahlerian scale (though not style!) the Karlowicz and Scharwenka are about the same length - a Beethovenian forty or so minutes.

This disc gives us the opportunity to hear the four movement Symphony for the first time. The outer movements are taken up with emotional turmoil - a touch of Liszt here a dusting of Tchaikovsky there. The two central movements sometimes seem Brucknerian and at others remind you of Elgar. I wonder if there could have been a more flowingly curvaceous effect than achieved here. The finale is however especially impressive with a fiery volatile tendency (at 8.00 onwards) and a gloriously golden Schumann-inflected ‘blare’ at the very end. The movement, in which both orchestra and conductor are inspired to a more potently driven approach, starts with thunderous Beethovenian protests. The plunging gesture in this movement might well have been the inspiration for a similar sequence in the George Rochberg Violin Concerto recently revived on Naxos. All in all this Symphony is to be warmly welcomed: a work with sometimes resolute character, a slight Russian accent on occasions and the regal/pastoral tendencies of Dvořák’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.

The Symphony was premiered in Copenhagen in 1 Dec 1883. Performances followed in Berlin, Elberfeld, Moscow, Danzig, New York, Helsinki and Bournemouth.

The Overture is a brooding, athletic and spirited affair in which the voices of Schumann (Fourth Symphony), Weber (Oberon) and even Mozart (Marriage of Figaro) meet. The Andante religioso is a soothingly sedate and extremely memorable Beecham lollipop manqué. Sterling’s CEO, Bo Hyttner, quips that it might even replace Albinoni’s Adagio; and well it might. Vintage Classic FM material but WILL they pick it up?

The thorough and satisfying notes are by the conductor. He has done his homework!

I hope that there will be more in this Deutsche Romantiker series. Sterling continue their talent for agreeable surprises. Recommended.

Rob Barnett

Christopher Fifield

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