Norbert BURGMÜLLER (1810-1836)
Overture in F, Op. 5 [12:23]
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 11 [31:51]
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 1 [33:25]
Leonard Hokanson (piano)
Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra/Gernot Schmalfuß
ec. 21-22 and 25 August (overture, symphony) and 1-2 December (concerto) 1997, Stadthalle Wuppertal, Germany
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 335 0817-2 [77:38]
I wish I could be more positive about Norbert Burgmüller except to say that he had considerable promise as a composer before dying at age 26. The three works here are illustrative of his potential, his shortcomings and his sudden death. The piano concerto and overture have moments of inspiration, but the symphony is merely diverting before it suddenly and jarringly ends.
I’ll take the concerto first. It benefits from three innovative twists: the fascinating key of F sharp minor, a slow movement which has an extensive cello solo, and a refusal to switch to the major in the stormy final coda. The opening, with the piano calming down a grandiose Sturm-und-Drang orchestra, foreshadows Brahms’ first concerto. The larghetto with its graceful cello calls to mind Tchaikovsky. Maybe the most remarkable thing about the piece is how little trace one feels of the shadow of Beethoven. On the other hand, there is a lot of Schubert.
There is even more Schubert in the symphony, which feels like three unrelated parts joined together. The first movement is a lovely pastoral which comes close to quoting Schubert in its development but lacks the catchy tunes of the other, better composer. The andante bears an obvious resemblance to the andante from Schubert’s last symphony: a solo theme for the oboe, delivered over walking-pace string accompaniment. Then comes the scherzo, which is charming but ends unexpectedly in a minor key. Since Burgmüller died before composing the finale, we’ll never know exactly what he meant by this symphony, which as is begins in a bucolic D major but ends in a surprising state of agitation. It should be noted that, according to the booklet’s translation, “He did not work out all of the third movement either. Robert Schumann instrumented [sic] the sketches.”
Schumann no doubt also knew about the overture, which might be my favorite piece here. Still, Burgmüller was not really capable of writing memorable tunes, which is why his music often sounds like Schubert without the depth or memorable substance. Then again, Schubert lived to 31. Burgmüller didn’t even have that good fortune.
This is a reissue of a 1996 recording which sounds perfectly good; the very good pianist, Leonard Hokanson, is very naturally balanced against the orchestra. A more incisive performance of the symphony on period instruments can be heard on Carus (Hofkapelle Stuttgart, Frieder Bernius), coupled with the composer’s other (completed) symphony. If you’re interested in the piano concerto, or you collect such early-romantic byways, this is one of the more interesting ones, though it is probably not essential.
The piano concerto has a few surprise twists but the symphony is Schubert without the tunes. Interesting to the early-romantic connoisseur, if not essential.
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