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Julius RONTGEN (1855-1932)
Symphony No. 3 in C minor (1910) [32:46]
Suite Aus Jotunheim (1892 orch. 1893) [25:10]
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/David Porcelijn
rec. Ludwigshafen, Philharmonie, 6-9 September 2005. DDD
CPO 777 119-2 [58:02]



CPO proffer the first of another epic series of recordings of rarely performed music. I hope that this will signal the rebirth of appreciation of the music of Dutch composer Julius Rontgen.

On the showing of the Third Symphony his musical creative skills are wide-ranging. They encompass the pleasingly ethereal and paschal peace of the Andante as well as the ability to conjure with blazing conviction a magnificently rampant surge. This can be experienced through the memorable first movement which together with the last is redolent in its strongest moments - of which there are many - of the Fourths of Brahms and Schumann and of Beethoven's Eroica. Rontgen is also good at Schubertian tension and the sort of darkly sustained funereal gravity you can hear in Sibelius's In Memoriam. Speaking of influences listen for the Brucknerian scherzo in the Presto feroce and Smetana's Vltava in the finale. Rontgen packs the score with deeply satisfying writing for the brass desks and you can hear this, often discreetly, in the finale. Congratulations to CPO's Gunter Appenheimer for producing such fine leonine sound. The Third Symphony is, I suppose, old-fashioned for 1910. Rontgen's revered forebears are worn on the sleeve but when the effect is as strong as this they can be forgiven - and what is to forgive?

The Aus Jotunheim suite was dedicated to Edvard and Nina Grieg for their 25th wedding anniversary. It's a five movement suite that is serene and kindly in the Lento and the Andante as well as stompingly raw and folksy in the Vivo and Allegro. Rontgen's sincerity is indubitable: he ends the suite with a soothing Lento to which he adds fjord freshness with a violin solo touched with Nordic wistfulness. It is very much an affectionate and gentle dance suite in pastel Griegian tone with a touch of the bucolic from the Dvořak Slavonic Dances, all lightly updated.

CPO announce that they will be recording all the symphonic works written by Rontgen on ten CDs. This pathfinder for the series does not disappoint; quite the contrary.

Rob Barnett

Links to further information about Rontgen:

A Rontgen review from 1998:

Julius Rontgen (1855-1932)
Piano Concerto (1879) [32:00]
Zwei Konzerte (1929-30) [16:00] and [18:00]
Folke Nauta (piano)
National Symphony Orchestra, Entschede/Jurjen Hempel
CD DONEMUS CV64 [67:51]


The Piano Concerto in D major (1879) is a decidedly romantic affair and a natural candidate for Hyperion. Donemus have dipped back into the Netherlands musical history to beat Hyperion to it. The style is a heroic blend of Schumann and Brahms. Listen to the gloriously singing melody at 4.30 in the first of the three movements. Rontgen's music was well-regarded by Tovey (whose own piano concerto should be out on Hyperion before long) and Brahms. He numbered Grieg (a friend from Leipzig student days) and Brahms amongst his friends. The concerto is Rontgen's second. The first dates from 1873 - a strongly Schumann-inflected exercise. The D major work is delightful - unfailingly enjoyable and with a dash of stormy drama. Once or twice I recalled C.V. Stanford's Second Piano Concerto of more than thirty years later!

Rontgen wrote music as easily as Saint-Saens. There are 600 works including 25 symphonies, 15 concertos, 22 string quartets, 14 violin sonatas, 14 cello sonatas - a prodigious catalogue and we are only at the beginning of knowing anything about it!

The Zwei Konzerte (Rontgen used and favoured German throughout his life) arose from a Scottish connection. Tovey's praise - at least one of Rontgen's works is given an analysis in Tovey's collection of musical analyses - for Rontgen resulted in a doctorate being given by Edinburgh University to the Dutch composer in 1930. Rontgen, in typically generous style, replied with a symphony for Edinburgh and these two concert pieces dedicated to and for Tovey. The admirably detailed and helpful booklet explains that the two pieces were intended as a single musical entity.

The first impression established is that little has changed in 50 years and that impression is only occasionally dispelled. The music is still romantic-melodic. Brahms is a clear influence but there is never any suggestion of opaque textures. He is clearly an extremely competent orchestrator and his ideas are usually distinctive. We may occasionally think of Rachmaninov in regal mode and the booklet also suggests Franck. The long unfolding melody at 13:01 is notable in the first of the two concertos.

Soloist, orchestra and conductor seem to enjoy their work. The string section only occasionally sounds rather thin and hard-edged. There is much here that is touching and inspired (try track 6 at 2:00 for one of many examples). Nothing is shudderingly original but the intrinsic musical value of what Rontgen writes is never in doubt. Do not be put off by the quantity of his output. Ideas, whistleable tunes and inspiration cascade freely from Rontgen's pen. This is a significant discovery and perhaps if Hyperion had known about it they would have coupled the Zwei Konzerte with Tovey's own piano concerto. Definitely worth the investment of a full price CD. Piano Concerto enthusiasts should snap this up immediately. Aficionados of the romantics also need not delay.  Rob Barnett - 1998


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