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Egon WELLESZ (1885-1974)
The Dawn of Spring - tone poem for large orchestra Op. 12 (1912) [8.15]
Life, dream and death - two songs for contralto and orchestra Op. 55 (1937) [8.15]
Song of the World - for soprano and orchestra Op. 54 (1938) [3.03]
Sonnets from the Portuguese - for soprano and string orchestra Op. 52 (1935?) [21.04]
Ode to Music - for contralto and chamber orchestra Op. 92 (1965) [4.46]
Vision - for soprano and orchestra Op. 52 (1966) [9.11]
Symphonic Epilogue - for large orchestra Op. 108 (1969) [12.36]
Regina Klepper (sop)
Sophie Koch (mezzo)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Roger Epple
rec. Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, 18-21 Nov 2002. DDD
CAPRICCIO 67 077 [69.12]


Wellesz is slowly regaining sufficient ground in the catalogue at least to permit a fragmentary reappraisal. There are two CPO CDs of the symphonies; the second of those discs was reviewed here by Lewis Foreman. The Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto are on two CDs from the Swiss Pan Classics label (510 104 and 510 109). Otherwise there is very little to be heard. Now Capriccio have invaluably, and with their usual consummate style, filled in part of this largely blank canvas. The present disc has two substantial orchestral pieces from each end of Wellesz's long life. These 'bookend' five pieces for voice and orchestra. In the vocal items Wellesz demonstrates the stagecraft and ear for drama that we would expect from the composer of six operas (Die Prinzessin Girnara, 1921 rev. 1928; Alkestis, 1924; Der Opferung des Gefangen, 1926; Scherz, List und Rache, 1928; Die Bakchantinnen, 1931; Incognita, 1951). All of these songs have a dramatic discomposure or angst.

The two songs that make up Life, dream and Death - belong to troublous times. The vocabulary has darkened and the vocal line is tortured though still noticeably tributary from the tradition of the orchestral song. The music does not have the caustic sarcasm of Mahler. This is more Richard Strauss meets early Berg as black clouds gallop across the moon. The second song is melodramatically driven by the wraiths of the Walküre. The harmony of Song of the World is several degrees more 'curdled' than the 1937 diptych. After the magnificence of the full orchestra, the five Browning Sonnets from 1934 deploy a string ensemble. The instrumental contribution is severe and the vocal line effortful, angular and volatile rather than voluptuously rounded. The best of the set Mir scheint, das Angesicht der Welt verging is left to last. Here Wellesz admits the warmth of a humanity little in evidence in the other four songs. Hannes Heher's notes, thorough and rewarding, tell us that the Browning poems were originally written as a recitation with strings.

The songs of the 1930s, utilising Berg's lyrical continuity rather than Webern's disintegrating concision and gnomic economy, were written in Alt-Ausee, Ascona and Vienna prior to Wewllesz’s departure in 1938 from a Germanic world gone sour for many. This was especially true for those with Jewish origins - as was the case with Wellesz. He was attending performances of his successful work Prosperos Beschorungen in Holland at the time of the Anschluss. Heeding warnings from friends, he did not return home instead going to England. There, after privations, he made a new home working in both London and Oxford. His work made little headway but there were performances of his symphonies on the Third Programme (broadcasts from Birmingham of his symphonies conducted by Hugo Rignold) and the Amadeo label issued an LP of some of his vocal works. The Ode to Music (Holderlin) and Vision (Trakl), works of the 1960s (the Beatles era), are angular and challenging although not sacrificing the singing contour in the sometimes melismatic (tr. 10, 8.20) vocal part.

Roger Epple and Capriccio chose well with their two female singers. Each enunciates finely, engages with the subtle emotion of the poetry and has the operatic lungs to surmount Wellesz's demanding requirements.

Now for the orchestral works. The Dawn of Spring drips with dewy impressionism, a degree or two cooler than Ravel but certainly not stolid. The music luxuriates amid the pastoral wash of sleepy 'colour' and avian song (7.11) between the woodland scenes in Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, Debussy's La Mer (5.30; 6.57) and Bax's Spring Fire. Solo voices 'speak' out as with the solo violin at 4.53 and 7.49. There is a smashing climax at 6.13 but it comes and passes quickly like summer thunder.

Almost seventy years later Wellesz's Symphonic Epilogue, is for large orchestra. This is in the form of a vituperative lento, rent with violence. Although this returns at the end, much of the centre is reflective, even softly expressive and is transparently orchestrated. This is tragedy played out to a tune called by the 12-tone piper and all on a grand scale. The 84 year old composer wrote it with a Vienna Phil premiere in mind. In fact it was given its first airing by Carl Melles and the Tonkünstlerorchester of Lower Austria.

This disc is part of Capriccio's '20th century Portraits' series. A welcome contribution too, well documented, with an ungimmicky and eloquently communicative approach to the recording. The music charts a parabola not unlike that of Schoenberg from early impressionism to outright but not desiccated 12 tone immersion.

This is an indispensable complement to the emerging Wellesz symphony series on CPO.

Rob Barnett

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