Dora PEJAČEVIC (1885-1923)
Symphony in F sharp minor, Op. 41 (1916-20) [47:36]
Phantasie Concertante for Piano and Orchestra in D minor, Op. 48 (1917-19) [14:49]
Volker Banfield (piano)
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Ari Rasilainen
rec. 9-13 June 2008, Ludwigshafen Philharmonie, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 418 2 [62:42]

This is the first of a new series from CPO. It will present the works of Croatian composer Dora Pejačevic. We are told that these two pieces are her principal symphonic works.

From a noble family she was born in Budapest and began writing music as a child. She continued her studies in Zagreb, Dresden and Munich. She was a composition pupil of the obscure English composer Percy Sherwood. She died in Munich in 1923. There are 58 compositions: songs, piano solos and chamber music including: piano quartet, piano quintet, violin sonata, cello sonata and two piano sonatas.

The craggy Symphony in F sharp minor is in a noble and tragic key. Itís in four big sprawlingly imaginative movements of which the second, the Andante sostenuto is quite magical. The performance feels good though I suspect that Pejačevicís mindís ear heard a string tone yet more voluptuous than that delivered here. Rasilainen invests the work with the total dedication he brought to his CPO Atterburg and Sallinen cycles if not quite attaining the flaming conviction of his Hausegger Natursymphonie. The symphony has been published by the Croatian Music Information Centre.

The Phantasie Concertante is a stormy concert movement for piano and orchestra. Itís debt to Rachmaninov is clear enough; Mind you Pejačevic was not alone in this as the concertos by Bowen (review review), Stanford (No. 2 Ė review review), Dobrowen (review) and Ė by repute Ė R.S. Coke will attest. Itís a big bow-wow of a work mixing in the emotional cauldron of the first two Rachmaninov concertos with the stony impact and wicked glint of Lisztís Totentanz. There is also a full-blown Piano Concerto in G minor (1913) awaiting attention from CPO. Banfield breasts the tempests and whirlpools with total panache Ė never submerged by the orchestral upheavals and always gloriously assertive. Itís that sort of work; no shadow of turning.

The Symphony is in an idiom veering around Delius in animated mood and Rachmaninov and Bowen (try the recent Chandos disc of the first two symphonies or the Second from ClassicO). It is a pleasing discovery if not totally compelling. The Phantasie Concertante is not particularly original but it will satisfy the ears of Rachmaninov piano concerto enthusiasts looking to see how far he influenced his contemporaries. It is good fun.

Look out for later Pejačevic volumes. And while we are in this vein when will CPO pick up on the three symphonies and six piano concertos of R.S. Coke?

Rob Barnett

The Symphony is a pleasing discovery if not totally compelling while the Phantasie Concertante is hyper-romantic fun.