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 Röntgen.
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. Röntgen 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. Röntgen 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 Günter Appenheimer for producing such fine leonine
sound. The Third Symphony is, I suppose, old-fashioned for 1910.
Röntgen’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.
Röntgen’s sincerity is indubitable: he ends the suite with a
soothing Lento to which he adds fjörd 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 Dvořák Slavonic
Dances, all lightly updated.
CPO announce that
they will be recording all the symphonic works written by Röntgen
on ten CDs. This pathfinder for the series does not disappoint;
quite the contrary.
Links to further information about Röntgen:
A Röntgen review from 1998:
Piano Concerto (1879) [32:00]
Zwei Konzerte (1929-30) [16:00] and [18:00]
Folke Nauta (piano)
National Symphony Orchestra,
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. Röntgen’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 Röntgen’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!
Röntgen wrote music
as easily as Saint-Saëns. 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 (Röntgen used and favoured
German throughout his life) arose from a Scottish connection.
Tovey’s praise - at least one of Röntgen’s works is given an
analysis in Tovey’s collection of musical analyses - for Röntgen
resulted in a doctorate being given by Edinburgh University
to the Dutch composer in 1930. Röntgen, 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.
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 Röntgen writes is never in doubt. Do not
be put off by the quantity of his output. Ideas, whistleable tunes
and inspiration cascade freely from Röntgen’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