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CD: Crotchet

Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Symphony No. 8 in C sharp minor (1930) [18:27]
Symphony No. 15 in F sharp minor (1931) [25:49]
Variations on a Norwegian Folksong (1932) [25:08]
Carmen Fuggiss (soprano)
NDR Radiophilharmonie/David Porcelijn
rec. GroBer sendesaal des Landesfunkhausen Niedersachsen, 27-29 March 2006; 6 October 2006. DDD
CPO 777 307-2 [69:29]
Experience Classicsonline

The Dutch composer Julius Röntgen grew to maturity under Brahms’s influence. He was feted by Donald Tovey in Edinburgh and was on intimately friendly terms with Grieg. Certainly Grieg’s music left its mark on the style and feel of his music as much as Brahms. He continued to write music until his death - for him there was no silence from Järvenpää.

As we know from earlier reviews he was impressively productive of symphonies both light and profound. He also produced more than few sets of variations and at least five piano concertos. As this disc shows he had a predilection for works of a more modest compass than the typical Brahms symphony. Many of his substantial works are between 20 and 30 minutes length. One of the exceptions amongst those recorded so far is the lyrical-dramatic cantata From Goethe’s Faust (see links below).

His single movement Eighth Symphony combines the Grieg and Brahms influences. Brahms provides the gravamen and some of the surface treatment. Grieg adds a transparency and endearingly folksy influence. The result is not an impenetrable fug but a buoyancy and lightness of expression that lifts the writing - it has a sense of floating that bears it aloft and keeps it there. It is a remarkable work that also features a wordless vocalisation alongside writing that recalls Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto (15:10). The former is magnificently carried with complete security by Carmen Fuggiss; not a tremor despite cruel demands. The solo voice is backwardly placed and adds to the morning mists fjord atmosphere. This is quite magical and is recorded with truly exemplary results by Björn Brigsne. I should mention that the symphony includes a discreet role for orchestral piano.

The Fifteenth Symphony is Brahmsian certainly but here the influence is the Fourth Symphony. There is more storminess and drama in this work which in its outer movements has its share of rugged determination. This contrasts with the airily dancing flute and solo violin-led delights of the second movement. The melancholy soulfulness of the cello-priest third leads to the roundedly solid, poetic and ultimately imperious finale. This brings the work to an end with a blitz of grimly confrontational brass and timps barks - tragedy in the ascendant. The extensive Variations on a Norwegian Folksong is lovingly and smoothly rounded with more than a touch of Delius, Grieg and perhaps Berlioz about it. The writing and the ideas are quite beautiful. There are none of Siegfried Wagner’s clodhopping folkdances and none of Reger’s fugal infatuations. Allowing for an isolated hint of Henry Wood’s Sea Song Variations everything is most delicately put across (16:15).

Burkhard Schmilgun will have been pleased with the results and I fully expect that the composer’s shade would have been also.

Three deeply romantic yet not extravagant works of the 1930s without a scintilla of dissonance; all enlivened and made transparent by Nordic folk voices.

This is the place to begin your exploration of Röntgen. If you appreciate the symphonies of Stanford but perhaps hanker for a lighter even impressionistic hand then Röntgen is certainly for you.

Rob Barnett 

Other reviews of Rontgen recordings
Symphony 3, Jotunheim suite - CPO 7771192
Symphony 10 & other orchestral works - CPO 7773082
Aus Goethes Faust - CPO 7773112
Chamber music - RCA 88697 158372
Quartettino - Challenge Classics CC72137
Cello concertos - Etcetera KTC1329


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