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Egon WELLESZ (1885-1974)
Symphony No. 1 op. 62 (1945-46) [36:10]
Symphony No. 8 op. 110 () [23:23]
Symphonischer Epilog op. 108 (1969) [11:35]
Radio Symphonieorchester Wien/Gottfried Rabl
rec. Grosser Sendesaal, Funkhaus ORF, 2003. DDD
CPO 999 998-2 [71.10]


There is almost as much of a stylistic chasm between Wellesz's earlier symphonies (1-4) and the later (5-9) symphonies as there is between Braga Santos's symphonies of the 1940s (1-4) and of the later decades (5-6). Wellesz was never a romantic nationalist of course.

His First Symphony, written when he was sixty, is in three movements. The first has a slightly academic Bachian flavour like a rather stern Stokowskian organ transcription. This is clearly a very serious piece of writing. The second movement is more carefree - a model in lucid and dancingly buzzing activity - sometimes it too slips into fugal patterning. The final molto adagio sostenuto has genuine emotional depth, grave and touching; more inward and emotional than the preceding movements. The writing of this work must have been a great release because throughout the war he had been unable to write a single note of music. As a Jew he was, during the early 1930s, relieved of all his academic appointments. Seeing the savage writing on the wall he emigrated to England where he became a prestigious and much respected voice at Oxford University. He also contributed to Grove.

The Eighth Symphony was premiered in a very different world in 1971 in Vienna by Miltiades Caridis. It is a work of emotional turbulence, protesting anger (try the end of the first and third movements) and drained exhaustion expressed in the free-wheeling language of dissonance and angularity rather than of melody. It is a much more compact work than the First at about two-thirds the length of the earlier piece. The Symphonischer Epilog is in much the same dissenting and fragmented pattern. There are moments when the tense discontinuity of these later works recalls late Havergal Brian as in his Symphonies 24 to 32. Wellesz like Brian has the genius to paint extraordinary elusive moods; listen to the last few moments of the Epilogue - a work, rather like Brian's Symphonia Brevis, that repays repeat listenings. The Op. 108 work was premiered on 13 May 1977 by the Lower Austrian Musicians' Orchestra conducted by Carl Melles.

The disc claims that what he have here are symphonies 1 and 2 and the Epilog. The booklet and jewel case insert are correct i.e. symphonies 1 and 8 and Epilog.

Wellesz’s is a stern and haunted voice of the Jewish diaspora. His music bears the wounds and scar tissue of a life riven with dispossession and exile. Is it any wonder that anger rounds out this music like summer lightning. The CPO Wellesz series is well worth following.

Rob Barnett

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