The Dutch composer Johann
Wagenaar ended his days as director of Royal Conservatory
in The Hague (1919-1937). He emerged from a troubled childhood
and studied with Herzogenberg in Berlin. There are 32 often programmatic
orchestral works in a style influenced by Brahms, Strauss, Berlioz
and Tchaikovsky. Symphonies and string quartets do not appear
in his catalogue.
Has the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra
ever sounded so resplendent before? Have they ever had a better
Levenszomer (Life's Summer) is pastel shaded yet voluptuous.
It’s in a language caught in time between Elgar's Serenade
and In the South, Louis Glass's Fifth Symphony
and Schoeck's Sommernacht. The mood is one of flowing
energy, contentment and a confident plenitude.
The Sinfonietta is in four
movements and is one of his rare pieces of ‘pure music’. It
is dedicated to the University of Utrecht. The soothing yet
springy first movement is reminiscent of Brahms 2 yet touched
with a Delian wand. The second movement has a serene Mahlerian
redolence; Wagenaar conducted Mahler 3 and 4. The molto
allegro (III) is strongly athletic and a flighted Mendelssohnian
energy lofts it high. There is a contrasting lovely sentimental
counter-melody. The finale too has some Mahlerian additives
and there’s some fine bustlingly boisterous work for the brass.
The overture De Philosophische Prinses
is a fugal style chatteringly exuberant overture.
Its mood is not far distant from that of Wagenaar’s The
Taming of the Shrew; an overture recorded by Van
Otterloo. Wagenaar is partial to a singing and probing
lyrical counter-idea and does not disappoint here. This overture
is well worth programming as a change from the normal ‘starters’
- somewhere between Tchaikovsky and Massenet.
Elverhoi - his very
last work - is another symphonic poem but here woven in a
Delian lull around relaxed echoing faery fanfares. The pace
soon gathers momentum and begins to surge with a broad energy
which is eventually replaced by some searching slivery writing
for romantic strings. The lambent and smiling mien of this
music recalls Levenszommer. It's most beautifully performed
Aveux de Phèdre is for soprano and orchestra. The orchestration rather
reminded me of Dukas. It is stormily operatic - like a scena-soliloquy.
It could easily have been drawn from some early twentieth
century French grand opera although - rich choux though it
is - the orchestration is less smugly adipose. It tells the
story of Phèdre's torment, torn between her love for two men
and only able to resolve the tension in suicide. The words
are reproduced in full in the booklet.
The little Larghetto might
easily have come from Bantock's warm Mediterranean elysium
as in the Pagan Symphony and in Sibelius's incidental
music. Nissen's ochre-toned oboe is in almost constant beneficently
The notes are by Shulamith Brouwer, the
Wagenaar authority. They are fine but why are the dates of
these works not given.
Other CDs in the Etcetera Dutch Composers
series include Röntgen’s Cello Concertos (KTC1329), Orthel's
orchestral works (KTC1359) and the choral orchestral music
of Joep Franssens (KTC1321).
After hearing this you will want to hear
more Wagenaar. Back in November 1990 Decca issued an all-Wagenaar
disc in which the Concertgebouw were conducted by Riccardo
Chailly: 425-833-2 (De getemde feeks, Op. 25 (1909);
Amphitrion; Driekoningenavond, Op. 36 (1927);
Wiener Dreivierteltakt, Op. 38 (1929); Saul en David,
Op. 24 (1906); Cyrano de Bergerac, Op. 23 (1905); De
Cid, Op. 27 (1915)).
Warming and songful music with the romantic
redolence of Bantock, early Delius and Dukas.