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Felix WEINGARTNER (1863-1942)
String Quartets - Vol. 1
String Quartet No.1, op.24 in d-minor (1898) [37:45]
String Quartet No.3, op.34 in F-major (1903) [30:48]
Sarastro Quartett
rec. Marthalen Church, September 2006.
CPO 7772512 [68:38]

Experience Classicsonline

How lucky we are finally to be able to discover the composer Felix Weingartner. It is one of the many great, laudable achievements of that enterprising record label CPO that they are unearthing Weinberger’s music piece by piece, CD by CD. For every disc I hear of his chamber or symphonic output, I become more willing to chuck all records of “Weingartner the conductor” and embrace “Weingartner the composer”. Who would ever say the same thing about Furtwängler? Furtwängler, for all the respect and pleasure - more of the former than the latter - I have for and gain from his music, suffers from the dubious distinction of having managed to combine the gaiety of Brahms with the brevity of Bruckner. Which, if it needs spelling out, is to say that he created fearfully towering, unsmiling symphonic behemoths (and sonatas) that offer acoustic clarification of the difference between gigantic and great.

Weingartner is so very different. There is a smiling soul and Austrian charm in his music that shines through, even in a relatively somber, mourning First Quartet, op.24 in d-minor - “The saddest of all keys”, as Nigel Tuffnell famously reminds us. Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, late Beethoven, and the Florestan side of Schumann are literally audible (Schubert) and in spirit (Beethoven, Schumann). This romantic quartet surpasses in immediacy of appeal even delectable Classical Kleinmeister like Onslow or Ries or the Munich romantic Ludwig Thuille. The Schubert theme for the first movement came to Weingartner upon news of the deaths of Bismarck and - more likely responsible for the incredible tenderness - that of his former landlord’s young child. Now here’s “In Memory of an Angel” without the atonal element! The work is substantial, 37:45 in the Swiss Sarastro Quartet’s deeply felt reading. Maybe the 9-minute Adagio assai could be more succinct, but it’s beautiful enough that there really is no reason to wish it shorter, even for the very few spots that don’t progress the musical storyline. Beethoven rears his head in the Allegro molto as if it were a collection of loosely connected reminiscences of what Weingartner (a noted Beethoven conductor and occasional orchestrator) liked about Beethoven’s string quartet writing. Then, when the Finale (Vivace – Andante Tema con Variazioni) hits upon the Schubert theme again (c. 2:15), there emerges a sense of such poised beauty that it seems a shame for any chamber-music-loving ears not to have heard it. Meandering through Seven Variations, it culminates in an exclamation mark of a flippant fugue on the subject. 

The Third Quartet op.34 in f-minor, a wedding gift to his second wife Feodora von Dreifuß, opens by spelling her name out (F-E-Do-re-A – which sounds Beethovenesque) only to just scrape by another near-direct Schubert quotation. Ralph Orendain, Roman Conrard (violins), Hanna Werner-Helfenstein (viola), and Stefan Bacher (cello) move the music along – lyrical now, then lightly dancing – as if the Allegro commodo didn’t quite know whether it wanted to be: either Allegro or comodo. No ambiguities in the swift, driven Allegro molto: galloping away with the players in tow, the four voices ever more independent. It is the movement which sounds least out of place in 1903 where Ravel and Debussy and Smetana had already written theirs. The third and final movement Poco adagio – Allegro giocoso brings calm once more, and once more only temporarily. Of a wedding gift you might expect a more optimistic tone, especially of Weingartner, than it musters. Perhaps Weingartner (“no propaganda will help my compositions if they’re no good and if they are good, they’ll succeed eventually”) was as realistic about marriage as about the ways of his music and its reception? 

His marriage with Feodora wasn’t likely a great success - he was to marry twice more - but his quartets have now received the treatment that should pave the way to their much deserved recognition. This being CPO’s volume 1 of Weingartner’s string quartets, the next round is awaited most eagerly.

Jens F. Laurson

Other Weingartner (composer) reviews on MusicWeb International

Symphony No. 2 (Lewis Foreman)
Symphony No. 4 (Rob Barnett)


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