Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Symphony no.6 in C minor, 'Rijck God, wie sal ic claghen', for mixed chorus and orchestra (1928) [16:31]
Symphony no.19, 'on B-A-C-H' (1931) [16:09]
Symphony no.5 in A minor, 'Der Schnitter Tod', for tenor, mixed chorus and orchestra (1926) [28:17]
Marcel Beekman (tenor)
Consensus Vocalis/Klaas Stok
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. Musikcentrum, Enschede, Netherlands, 30 June - 4 July 2008.
CPO 777 310-2 [61:02]
An eighth instalment in CPO's series dedicated to the orchestral music of Julius Röntgen, this is one of the less generous by far in terms of recorded minutes, yet the first to offer three whole symphonies. Nos. 3, 8, 10, 15 and 18 have already appeared across four CDs, all with David Porcelijn conducting one of two German orchestras. Here he crosses the border to take charge of the Enschede-based Netherlands SO, with whom he has most recently recorded Röntgen's three cello concertos. At the time of writing (summer 2013), these have just been released by CPO (777 234-2). In recent years the Orchestra has improved considerably, even before it changed its name from the slightly odd-sounding Orkest van het Oosten (Orchestra of the East), and under Porcelijn they are authoritatively cogent throughout.
Though Röntgen took Dutch citizenship after the First World War, he is German by birth and temperament and his music for the most part is entirely in the tradition of Schumann, Brahms and Reger. Thus these symphonies are melodious, stylistically colourful, conservatively dramatic, elegantly unpretentious.
All three here are in a minor key, and their tone can be said to be crepuscular without ever going entirely dark. The concise, driven single-movement Sixth incorporates a long central section for chorus, setting a 16th-century Dutch tune, 'Great God, to whom shall I lament?' Symphony no.19 is perhaps the weakest of the three, each of its four movements over before it really gets going, and feeling just a little disconnected. In his defence, Röntgen completed the work in a mere fortnight - one of an incredible 18 or 19 symphonies written between 1930 and his death in 1932! - and the music is at least pleasantly tuneful. It certainly never "verges on the limits of tonality", as CPO claim in their publicity. The final movement, inevitably a fugue, is easily the best, as Röntgen underscores his indebtedness to Bach.
The chorus in the Fifth, subtitled 'Der Schnitter Tod' ('Death the Reaper') and inspired by the Great War, does not appear until the final movement, and then only relatively intermittently, alternating with Marcel Beekman's silky solo voice. The text is taken from the collection of German folksongs popularised first by Goethe and numerous composers subsequently, 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn'. There is no Mahleresque complexity in Röntgen's Fifth, but it is a striking work that builds to a compelling climax.
As it happens, there is plenty of scope for further research into Röntgen's corpus of works. New Grove mentions "21 symphonies", but gives no further details. The Julius Röntgen Society's website also lists 21, this time with key signature and year of composition but nothing more. Wikipedia claims "25 symphonies", but this number is unsubstantiated. However, in his recent biography, 'Gaudeamus: The Life of Julius Röntgen' (Waanders, 2007), scholar Jurjen Vis also gives 25, that is, 1-24 with a 10a and 10b. The numbering of the symphonies is certainly problematic, with a few of them thought lost and therefore affecting numeration. At least two, including the Fifth, were rediscovered in the last decade, giving cause for optimism for a full complement sometime in the future.
Sound quality is pretty good. The booklet notes are dense and informative in the usual CPO way. These are first recordings; for further information on what is available, a website maintained by Röntgen's grandson, also called Julius, has the most detailed, up-to-date discography. In its detail there is much evidence that Röntgen is a composer of the highest rank.
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Symphonies that are melodious, stylistically colourful, conservatively dramatic, elegantly unpretentious.
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