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Egon WELLESZ (1885-1974)
Symphony No. 3 Op. 68 (1949-51) [34.12]
Symphony No. 5 Op. 75 (1955-56) [28.57]
Radio Symphonieorchester Wien/Gottfried Rabl
rec. Grosser Sendesaal, Funkhaus ORF, 2004. DDD
CPO 999 999-2 [63.22]


This fourth CD sees CPO and Rabl completing their cycle of recordings of the nine Wellesz symphonies. It's a vast journey from Schubertian consonance to forbidding dissonance. In a year or two I am sure CPO will issue them as a set as they have with Frankel and Atterburg.
The other discs are:-
Symphonies 2, 9 CPO 999 997-2 review by Lewis Foreman
Symphonies 4, 6, 7 CPO 999 808-2 review by John France
Symphonies 1, 8 CPO 999 998-2 review by Rob Barnett

Viennese Wellesz was born into an affluent Jewish family and had every expectation of a brilliant musical career in his home city. However events in Germany were to end all that. There was no place for him in Hitler's Greater Reich. He fled to England.

The first five symphonies proclaim their roots in the great Germanic symphonic tradition with frank linkages to Schubert, Bruckner and Mahler increasingly viewed through Schoenberg's 12-tone 'glass'

The Symphony No. 3 was started one year after completion of the Second and was not premiered until 2002. It is a work of his British years. The music has little in the way of surface attraction - no easy victories. There is a Brahmsian sobriety about this and the first movement is like a Bach organ work transcribed by Schoenberg. The second is more ingratiating but rises to a Brucknerian gravity of expression. The scherzo third movement skips along almost nonchalantly with Brucknerian references peeping through the barlines ... and the sun is shining. A contented gift of a melody plays the feminine counter to a daring masculine figure recalling the Bruckner symphonies 3 and 4. The finale has Protestant sobriety and downbeat as if wanting to put behind it the ‘indecency’ of the two central movements. I must not overdo the Schoenberg voice but certainly the music does betray a free approach to tonality. The symphony ends with a typically terse Brucknerian gesture.

Four years later comes the Fifth Symphony with a similar palette and style book as the Third. Again the four movements are desperately serious with strong tribute presented to the Schoenberg camp. They only lack the contrast of the central movements of the Third. Counterpoint and fugue thread their way through this work of North German sobriety a mood emphasised by the work's centre of gravity in the adagio molto III. It smiles of course but relentlessly. Solo voices, woodwind and violin, float free but the language is always occluded and soaked in the 12-tone argot. Intriguingly the finale with its pummelling bass-heavy sound is topped off by shrieking trumpets in contrast to all that has gone before. It ends with an emphatic angry growl. Rabl gives a masterfully intense performance - deeply impressive. Trudging, violent, turbulent, and unforgiving, there is even majesty of sorts - an awe-struck forbidding sort.

Two deeply serious Germanic symphonies touched to varying degrees by the influence of Schoenberg.

Rob Barnett

see also review by John France

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