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Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Aus Goethes Faust for orchestra, organ, chorus and soloists (1930)
Machteld Baumans (soprano) - Gretchen; Marcel Beekman (tenor) - Bauer; André Morsch (baritone) - Erdgeist; André Post (tenor) - Brander; Mark Richardson (baritone) - Bettler; Dennis Wilgenhof (bass) - Mephistopheles.
Koor van de Nationale Reisopera Enschede
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. Enschede Musikzentrum, 18-20 June 2007. DDD
CPO 777 311-2 [60:34]
Experience Classicsonline

Julius Röntgen straddled two centuries and two countries. He was born in Leipzig but from 1878 made his home in the Netherlands. He was remarkably prolific in his writing. There are 534 works in the Röntgen archive at the Netherlands Music Institute of which only about a fifth were published during his lifetime. Our knowledge of his music is patchy at best. For a composer with such a numerous work-list the image of him now can be roughly approximated to that we had of Martinů or Bax in the 1960s.
His friendships in the world of music included Brahms, Grieg, Nielsen, Tovey and Percy Grainger. He remained a German Brahmsian romantic at heart. However his palette as represented here in this late but intensely ripe work evinces other tributaries including early Mahler (Symphonies 1 and 4), Schumann (Manfred, Paradies und die Peri and Roserpilgerfahrt) and Pfitzner (Eine Deutsche Seele). We might als be forgiven for thinking of works which Röntgen presumably had never heard, including Nielsen's Springtime in Fynen and the choral writing of Kuhlau.
This is an extraordinary and wondrous work for an eighty year old. Extraordinary because of its totally beguiling freshness of romantic invention. One might perhaps have expected a tiredness at this age but not at all. The last eight years of his life from 1924 were in fact taken up with his avocation - composition and they bore a hundred works apparently of the highest quality.
In tackling Goethe's 'Faust' Röntgen declared again his German credentials and his confidence. His sympathies were evident from many of his works including the motets Wider den Krieg (1914) and Wider den Frieden (1920) as well as the Bußcantate (1925). Goethe was a major preoccupation. Apart from the present work Röntgen wrote his Symphony No. 17 Aus Goethes Wilhelm Meister and Symphony No. 20 Symphonie mit Schlusschor uber Goethes Prooemion both dating from 1931.
The Prolog im Himmel - the first movement - is both smoothly romantic and heroically commanding. It shares material with the later Fausts Anrufung (tr. 8). The Lied der Erdgeistes has the terpsichorean lightness of the Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen coupled with the outdoor innocent lilt of Brahms Volkslieder. Vor dem Tor is a lovely inspiration, part way between Brahms' Academic Festival and Mahler 1. One of the most imaginative movements in an extremely imaginative lyrical work is the Walpurgisnacht which recalls Poul Schierbeck's Hexen. Auerbach's Keller in Leipzig dances with strongly shod cheerfulness of the Academic Festival Overture and of Siegfried Wagner's lighter orchestral pieces.
The CPO notes are enviably thorough and could hardly be more authoritative in the hands of Röntgen biographer, Jurjen Vis. Can we hope for an English translation of the Vis book or must we wait for years as is still the case with Chris Walton's biography of Othmar Schoeck.
Hearing more of Röntgen must be a priority as it is also in the case of Hausegger whose masterful Natursymphonie was recently released by CPO (see review). There are after all a total of 21 symphonies written between 1926 and 1932. CPO already have eight CDs worth of Röntgen in the can ready to issue (see article). There's cause for optimism in the case of Röntgen as this disc is labelled "Julius Röntgen Edition" - soon I hope.
Rob Barnett
Other Röntgen reviews
Symphony No. 3 - CPO 7771192
Piano Concertos - Donemus CV64
Cello Concertos 1-3 - Etcetera KTC1329
Piano Quintet - BMG/RCA 88697 158372
Quartettino - Challenge CC72137

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