these symphonies were new to me, and the composers almost
were. I'd never even heard of Staehle, and the only Burgmüller
I'd previously heard was some ballet music that Richard
Bonynge recorded years ago. The booklet represents both
composers as part of a "Kassel School", trained
in composition by Louis Spohr during his stint as court
conductor and opera director in that city, from 1822 to
is also beautiful stuff. Some people will call it "derivative" -
there are clear echoes of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and
the shadow of Beethoven hangs over everything. But if we
hear the period's higher-profile composers in this music,
that's simply because their music is already familiar to
us, and this music isn't. Besides, the quest for originality
is very much a modernist fetish; nineteenth-century composers
weren't expected to reinvent the wheel with each new creation.
So don't judge the music - just enjoy it.
symphony certainly sounds more substantial than did those
ballets. In the first movement, the themes aren't really
distinctive, but the composer's use of the orchestra is
striking: even the quieter passages - in the slow introduction,
for example - always sound fully fleshed-out. The Adagio
with its segmented phrases, is simple and wistful; a few
episodes of brief turbulence - the longest, at 3:33, introduced
by peremptory horn fanfares - don't prove serious. The
rambunctious, volatile Scherzo
, punctuated with
Beethovenian eruptions, unexpectedly scales down to a baby-hunting-horn
Trio. The Finale
's edgy, dramatic first theme, unfortunately,
is too quickly allowed to bang away in tutti
woodwinds' airy second subject provides a respite, spinning
out more expansively on its reappearances; still, the overall
effect remains bombastic.
first influence we hear in the Hugo Staehle
isn't Germanic at all: the dark, ominous unison of horns,
bassoons, and clarinets, answered by tremolos, is straight
out of early Verdi! The tremolos continue to feature prominently
in the Presto
proper, where the first subject suggests
Mendelssohn's more dramatic side. The oboe's broad contrasting
theme seems static, but proves useful in the development,
where bits of it are layered with the whirling accompaniment
figures from the first group. The Adagio cantabile
with a sweet chorale intoned by the strings. As the woodwinds
take up the theme with string support, the textures gradually
fill out, with a nice interplay of colors as woodwind strands
weave in and out of the string-based sonorities. Harmonic
shifts bring an unexpected note of disquiet, and later
restore serenity. Short upbeat motifs give the Scherzo
forward-pushing impulse; the cheerful Trio, introduced
by a little horn-and-clarinet fanfare - did Spohr give
both composers this idea? - climaxes in a blaze of glory.
The short, turbulent opening motif of the Finale
smoothly into a tender clarinet melody. The development's
homophonic wind phrases, in their dotted rhythm, recall
Symphony. A diminished seventh
chord abruptly stops the forward motion, after which the
music turns slower and more chorale-like, tapering to a
quiet yet full-toned conclusion.
Piollet, the principal conductor of the Kassel State Theatre,
provides sympathetic leadership, maintaining rhythmic buoyancy
through the turbulent passages. He elicits beautiful sounds
from the theatre's orchestra, a tremendous improvement
on the scrappy ensembles that once documented such repertoire
on Genesis, Vox, and other LP labels. The dark, burnished
tone of the string body is particularly attractive; the
violin sections aren't huge, but their playing is clean
and unanimous in exposed passages - try 5:23 of Burgmüller's Adagio
engineering is good enough that I wish it were better.
Most of the time, there's a lovely depth and warmth; but
the full orchestra acquires a hard edge when the brass
dominate - underlining Burgmüller's over-use of the tutti
his Finale - and sounds congested when they don't.
wonders why we don't hear this sort of music in concert.
The Burgmüller's finale mightn't wear well, but most of
what precedes it is fetching, and the Staehle is simply
lovely. Are we so jaded that we can't appreciate well-crafted,
expressive music unless it's by the acknowledged greats?
So much the worse for us, then.
Stephen Francis Vasta
see also review by Rob