These forces have already recorded Scharwenka’s Symphony and other
orchestral works for Sterling and now here’s a follow-up. The
name Scharwenka probably triggers thoughts of Franz Xaver, pianist
and teacher and also composer. The slightly younger Xaver’s piano
concertos have been recorded in polished and exemplary style on
Hyperion but his brother Philipp Ludwig was a fine musician and
composer in his own right.
He was born in the
province of Posen in 1847 of a Czech-Polish background and studied
at Theodor Kullak’s New Academy of Music in Berlin. Whereas Xaver
studied piano under the tutelage of Kullak himself Philipp concentrated
on composition before Xaver founded the conservatory that bore
his name and Philipp joined him as head of music theory. Later
still Philipp became head of the Berlin Conservatory whilst his
ever-busy brother founded another conservatory in New York. Philipp
died in 1917 and regrettably a deal of information relating to
his compositions was lost in the destruction of the Second War.
The three works recorded
here differ considerably. Frühlingswogen falls into fairly
clear sectional lines. It opens in verdant, woodland, folkloric
fashion that admits some lingering, lonesome - indeed at one
point desolate - solo voices. The harp and winds make their presence
known and there are strong narrative implications throughout -
the title of the work is actually the German translation of a
Turgenev novella (Spring Torrents in English, written in
1871). Stylistically there are echoes of Wagner and also of Scharwenka’s
near contemporary, Tchaikovsky. From 11:40 there’s an especially
fine clarinet solo and an air of brooding sensuality permeates
the score for this point until at there’s a cloudburst with Dvořákian
winds and a sunset Wagner glow to end it all.
Suite is the only one of the three works that can be dated
with accuracy – 1887. It’s cast in four rather overlong movements
that vary in inspiration. It’s broadly genial in tone with some
rather odd military moments that had me thinking of the Strauss
dynasty from time to time. The most immediately attractive of
the movements is the third with its eloquently spun clarinet solo
and the refined dynamics of the orchestra under Fifield’s direction.
The finale returns to the genial ease of the opening movement,
flecked with some vaguely ecclesiastical sounding punctuation
points along the way.
The last of the trio
of works is Liebesnacht, a fantasy piece for orchestra.
This is really a hymn of love to Tristan and Isolde, an
extended nineteen-minute paraphrase of total Wagnerian absorption.
Listening to it is rather like hearing a composer almost entirely
effaced by his Godhead and inspiration. It would be cruel to say
that not a trace of Scharwenka remains – though I think it’s true
– but the skill resides in the orchestration and the subtleties
of its dramatic deployment. To that extent Liebesnacht earns its
The performances are
all – or all sound, given the unfamiliarity of this music – idiomatic
and engaging. More heft in the strings wouldn’t have gone amiss
in Liebesnacht. Otherwise, this is an enjoyable sampling
of the less well-known Scharwenka.