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Emil Nikolaus von REZNICEK (1860-1945)
Symphony No.3 in D major (1918) [30.34]
Symphony No.4 in F minor (1919) [40.36]
Robert Schumann Philharmonie/Frank Beermann
rec. 6-10 September 2010, Veranstaltungszentrum Forum, Chemnitz
CPO 777 637-2 [71:14]

CPO continues its project to record Reznicek’s orchestral output: five symphonies, several suites and incidental music. There are also operas and choral works, chamber music, songs, piano and organ music awaiting discovery or revival. The Music collection of the Austrian State Library in Vienna is the main repository of manuscripts, letters, photographs, autographs and printed editions of Reznicek’s works, the other being the Reznicek Archives in Arvada, Colorado in the USA in which printed materials predominate. This Austrian-born (Czech origin) composer wrote much but is remembered chiefly for the opera Donna Diana, by which is meant the four-minute egg-timer overture he wrote on demand in the course of an evening after he had completed the opera. It is as if Mozart were remembered today only for the overture to the Marriage of Figaro.
This review begins with a plea to CPO to use an English translator for the English version of the booklet notes. They are invariably appalling and do a great disservice to the performers and the listener, who needs all the help possible to acquaint him or herself with such unknown repertoire. Take this for example: "By the way, with this designation, Michael Wittmann to whom I here would like to express my collective and multiple thanks for various tips and materials, has tacitly confirmed a character trait of the composer Reznicek that I believed I could detect already on my first more intimate contact with him: a sort of communicative capacity always holding open a little backdoor through which it is possible to slip into one’s innermost self without ever completely revealing oneself or going so far as to let oneself be taken captive. This is the way that somebody who does not want to use his own vulnerability as a aid to gaining control over others (“Now just look what you’ve done to me!”) or for true confessions for talk show consumption, even if what we know as life has burdened him with the most difficult tests and trials." It gets far worse.
Reznicek wrote five symphonies, although the fifth (1926) is a series of dances, hence its title Tanzsymphonie. The first (1903) symphony’s subtitle is The Tragic, the second (1905) The Ironic which leaves little to the imagination regarding their content. If the Third Symphony takes a fond backward glance to the era of Mendelssohn and Schumann, the Fourth (both of them immediate post-WW1) may be said to be in homage to Brahms with its verbatim quote of the latter’s third at the very start and a passacaglia followed by variations to match the finale in that of the earlier composer’s Fourth. In other words Reznicek moves from the classical outlines and its formal structures in the Third to a more Romantic harmonic idiom in the Fourth Symphony. He has a tendency to follow the rules with tongue in cheek. The lightly scored Third (no heavy brass, harp or percussion) ends with a Tarantella as does Mendelssohn’s Italian hence the subtitle In the old Style. Reznicek’s harmonic language and rhythmic twists and turns have a sardonic flavour and a Mahlerian abruptness bordering upon cynicism. The Fourth Symphony has denser textures, pairs of woodwinds in thirds (typically Brahms) and trombones in the second and last movements only. The second movement is a heavy-laden Funeral March 'for a Comedian’, which Reznicek heard Nikisch conduct at the Berlin premiere on 25 October 1920 so slowly he ‘believed lightning would strike me … but the further he got into the movement, the more convincing the tempo became’. In Reznicek’s music one hears both Mahler (the fragmentary mosaic of phrases) and Strauss (the parody element although they were friends).
Frank Beermann, who, with all power to his elbow, has espoused the Reznicek cause with apparent vigour and obvious enthusiasm, has already recorded the Second and Fifth symphonies with the Berne Symphony Orchestra (CPO 777 056-2) in 2004, the lengthy (55’) First Symphony in 2009 with the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt (CPO 777 223-2) and now (2010) completes the symphonic canon at the helm of the Robert Schumann Symphony Orchestra. He conducts convincing performances of both the Third and Fourth symphonies, although occasionally one senses a mismatch of tempo at edit points, whilst some rogue tuning in the A flat major chord at the beginning of the Trio in the Fourth has also slipped under the radar. The trombones and double bassoon take full advantage of their limited appearances, but their frustration at being under-employed can conceivably be nothing compared to the bass drum and cymbal players. They have just two single entries right at the end of the Passacaglia finale of the fourth, which is not a clever way for a composer to make orchestral friends.
Christopher Fifield