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 place here.
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.