Wagner had a soft spot for his teenage Symphony
– he revised it towards the end of his life – and quite
rightly so. It was his conscious tribute to the spirit of Beethoven,
whose symphonies so much influenced the trend of his later work.
It opens with a series of bald chords separated by pauses which
hark back to the opening of the Eroica
and then continues
into a series of rhythmic movements which in many ways recall
Ironically enough Järvi, who plays all the
movements very quickly, underplays the Beethovenian overtones
and the result sounds more like an undiscovered symphony of Schubert
– a good one, though. The last movement bubbles with joie
at Järvi’s headlong speed, but the opening detached
chords which return at the end tend to run into each other. This
may have been what Wagner intended, but one suspects it is more
the result of the reverberant acoustic. There is very little in
the way of performance tradition with this symphony, but one feels
that Wagner might have preferred a heavier and more weighty account.
Wakasugi with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra on Denon
takes more time in every movement, and the result is more Beethovenian
in style even though the orchestral playing is not so polished
as here - and is given a rather muffled and over-resonant recording.
If there are few other recordings of the Symphony in C
there are even fewer of the fragmentary Symphony in E
The later work was long thought lost and was only acquired by
Cosima Wagner after her husband’s death. She asked Felix Möttl
to orchestrate the sketches, but the score then disappeared again
after an auction in 1913 and the current whereabouts of the manuscript
are not known. Listening to the work one can see why Wagner abandoned
it. The first movement sounds very like a re-tread of the Symphony
with some of the thematic material very similar indeed.
The form is more loose-limbed and one can hear the young composer
chafing at the restraints imposed by symphonic form. Järvi’s performance
makes more of the piece than Wakasugi did on his Denon recording.
There is also a recording by Sawallisch with the Philadelphia
Orchestra, but that only gives us the completed first movement.
Wagner only wrote thirty bars of the Adagio
but these last over five minutes in this recording at Järvi’s
very slow speed; over a minute longer than Wakasugi. Möttl does
not appear to have made any attempt to expand or complete the
sketch, which drifts away on a pattern of repeated notes of the
type familiar from the Siegfried Idyll
and was obviously
about to lead into some new material.
There are two other rarities here in the shape of the two marches
Wagner wrote during the period he was working on the later stages
of the Ring
. They are dedicated to two royal patrons
in the shape of Mad King Ludwig and the first Kaiser Bill. These
are not great works by any means, but both have Wagnerian fingerprints
which make them rather more than the worthless occasional pieces
they could so easily have been. The Kaisermarsch
had a choral final section – based on Ein feste Burg –
added to celebrate German victory in the Franco-Prussian War,
but we are not given this here. Wagner seems to have regarded
it as a removable addition, and startlingly the booklet informs
us that at one stage he even contemplated replacing Ein feste
with God save the Queen
for a London performance.
The orchestration of the Huldigungsmarsch
by Joachim Raff, but sounds authentically Wagnerian – presumably
Wagner oversaw and approved the result. The music is less bombastic
than in the later Kaisermarsch.
Wagner seems to have
thought more of King Ludwig than the Emperor Wilhelm, and wrote
better music for him. He had originally intended the later work
to be a funeral march before he was instructed to write something
more militaristic – and as always he needed the money. We are
hardly blessed with a choice of recordings of either of these
works, so Järvi’s performances are valuable in their own right
and the orchestral playing has all the needed panache. There are
rival readings by the LSO under Marek Janowski but the sound in
this new SACD release is superior.
The most familiar piece on this CD is the overture to Rienzi
which has been recorded innumerable times. It is again an early
piece, but the opening is a remarkable feat of imagination by
Wagner with its long-held trumpet note swelling and fading to
produce an unmistakably martial effect – and incidentally proving
that music can convey meaning and emotion without the aid of harmony.
Järvi gives Rienzi’s beautiful prayer plenty of time to expand
and make its effect, and the jolly war songs swagger convincingly
despite a very slow tempo at the beginning. The trumpet doubling
of the prayer melody on its return sounds vulgar, but that is
entirely Wagner’s fault. Järvi lavishes plenty of expression on
the phrasing and the result is something better than the mechanical
imitation of French grand opera that we frequently hear in this
This is in short a most valuable release which enshrines excellent
performances and recordings of some very rare music indeed. The
orchestral playing and the splendid recording in the symphonies
makes this a clear first choice for those two works, and the other
items make a valuable bonus.
Paul Corfield Godfrey