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Philipp Ludwig SCHARWENKA (1847-1917)
Frühlingswogen Op.87 [23:50]
Arkadische Suite in B major Op.76 (1887) [30:49]
Liebesnacht, fantasy piece for orchestra Op.40 [19:15]
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Fifield
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, March 2007
STERLING CDS10712 [73:54]

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.

The Arkadische 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 place here.

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.

Jonathan Woolf 




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