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Karl WEIGL (1881-1949)
Concerto for piano (left hand) and orchestra in E flat major (1924) [34:50]
Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major (1928) [35:25]
Florian Krumpöck (piano) David Frühwirth (violin)
Norddeutsche Philharmonie Rostock/Manfred Hermann Lehner, Florian Krumpöck
rec. 25-27 March 2013, Volkstheater Rostock, Germany
CAPRICCIO C5232 [70:29]

Karl Ignaz Weigl was born in Vienna, the only child of Ludwig and Ella, keen amateur musicians who encouraged their son’s early musical aspirations, by sending him at the age of fifteen for private composition lessons with family friend Alexander Zemlinsky. Weigl’s studies continued at the Vienna Music Academy under Robert Fuchs and at the University of Vienna. In 1910, he auditioned for Mahler at the Vienna Opera and was subsequently engaged as a répétiteur and vocal coach. Early successes included the premiere of his First Symphony in Zurich that year, and the Third String Quartet for which he was awarded the Beethoven Prize. On the outbreak of the First World War, he was called up for military service but after the war ended, he was appointed teacher of theory and composition at the New Vienna Conservatory, a position he held until 1928. The following year he became lecturer at the University of Vienna succeeding Hans Gál. These prestigious appointments were paralleled by a significant growth of interest in his music, with works championed by such artists as Furtwängler, Szell and the Busch Quartet among others. However, in the early 1930s, as a composer and prominent public figure of Jewish descent, Weigl found himself a victim of Nazi cultural policies, and performances of his works all but dried up. Aware of the imminent danger of the developing situation, following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938, Weigl fled to America with his family. There he continued his teaching, and still composed prolifically until his death there.

By the early 1920s, Weigl was an established figure in the musical landscape of Vienna and it was probably for this reason that he was approached by the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, son of wealthy industrialist Karl, and elder-brother to celebrated philosopher Ludwig. The Wittgensteins were a musical family and Paul was just beginning to establish himself as a concert pianist when he had to undergo amputation of his right arm as a result of a wound sustained during the First World War. He was nevertheless determined to resume his career using his left hand only, and the family fortune enabled him to commission some of the most eminent composers of the day to write works especially for him. Korngold’s Concerto in C sharp, written in 1923, was the first of several commissions from, among others, Britten, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Ravel, Franz Schmidt and Richard Strauss. With hindsight, posterity can only be indebted to Wittgenstein’s enterprise in precipitating a host of major additions to the piano concerto repertoire. However, his own musical tastes were actually on the conservative side and he often displayed a somewhat ungracious attitude to the composers and their works. For example, he made alterations to Ravel’s concerto, hoping that the composer wouldn’t notice – unfortunately Ravel did, and was far from happy: Wittgenstein complained to Britten that the orchestration of his Diversions for Left Hand was too heavy, and he never even performed the Hindemith and Prokofiev concertos, telling the latter that he ‘did not understand a note of it’. Unfortunately, and for reasons unknown, Wittgenstein also failed to perform Weigl’s concerto. In 1932, Ignaz Friedman expressed an interest in playing the work but this, too, never materialised. Thus it was that the concerto received its long-awaited premiere in 2002 in Vienna given by Florian Krumpöck, the pianist on the present CD.

The Piano Concerto is cast in traditional three-movement form – Allegro – Adagio – Rondo: Allegro – essentially conservative almost in the manner of Brahms, whose spirit inhabits much of the work, along with hints of Schumann. Indeed, Weigl employs similar orchestral resources to Brahms – double woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings – which all seems to evoke the aura of his German colleague, although almost sixty years his junior. However, Weigl does indulge himself by requiring a triangle in the finale.

In fact, in Lloyd Moore’s excellent, and most informative sleeve-notes (in English and German), he compares the approaches of the various composers who wrote for Wittgenstein, in meeting the challenges inherent in composing for the more unusual medium of piano (left hand) and orchestra. ‘Ravel and Korngold in their concertos’, he postulates, ‘wrote bravura works which heroically pit the soloist against the weight of a full orchestra. Other composers, such as Hindemith and Prokofiev, took a different line, employing modest forces to ensure that the soloist is evenly balanced and never overwhelmed’. Weigl opted for the latter approach and, while not adopting Brahms’s four-movement format, from the Piano Concerto No 2, still had him as his role model. Moore comments here that Weigl’s Concerto is also ‘Brahmsian’ in terms of its ‘substantial duration of nearly forty minutes’. It’s actually a few seconds under thirty-five minutes on the CD, unless cuts have been made, whereas Brahms’ B flat Concerto actually takes forty-six minutes, albeit having the added Scherzo. Grieg’s Concerto, by comparison, is just around thirty minutes, so Moore still has some justification for his comment on length.

Given that Weigl’s concerto on this CD emanates from 1924 – contemporary, then, with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony and Respighi’s Pines of Rome – Weigl forges his own musical path, rather than paying lip-service to any of the emerging practices of the 1920s. Rather as in Reger’s Concerto, or even the first movement of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, there is little sign of the conflict typical of the Romantic concerto, with mutual interplay between soloist and orchestra far more par for the course. Towards the end of the first movement there is an extensive cadenza, though here, too, Weigl resists the temptation to indulge in virtuoso display for its own sake. Unlike Ravel’s concerto, for example, Weigl never seeks to create the illusion of two hands playing, by complex and overly-challenging writing.

The relatively short slow movement is essentially solemn in nature, with a chromatic hint of Tristan and Isolde, but which does build to an expressive climax, before returning to the character of the opening. The flute leads without a break into the finale, an energetic dance alternating with more reflective episodes, bringing the work to a high-spirited conclusion.

Weigl returned to the concerto medium four years later with his Violin Concerto, sending the completed score to Adolf Busch in the hope that it might interest the great German violinist enough to perform it. After perusing the score, Busch made various suggestions for ‘improvement’, many of which Weigl dutifully incorporated, but Busch still declined to perform the work. Instead, the premiere was given by the young violinist Josef Wolfsthal in 1930 with the Vienna Workers’ Symphony Orchestra. Wolfsthal died from pneumonia a year later, and his performance appears to have been the only one given during Weigl’s lifetime. In the years following the composer’s death, the work had a couple of outings, but the first modern-day performance had to wait until 2009, when it was played by Philippe Graffin in Taiwan.

It is scored like the Piano Concerto, with the addition of harp and percussion, and also follows the three-movement plan. The first movement begins with a sizeable orchestral introduction which establishes a characteristic rhythmic idea which then pervades the entire movement. Once it enters, the violin is rarely silent for long, though again virtuosity for its own sake is avoided, with soloist and orchestra treated as more-or-less equal protagonists throughout. The slow movement is much more substantial and spacious than its piano concerto counterpart, an almost continuous flow of melody in which a gentle lyricism prevails. The finale returns to the lively character of the first movement and this time is clearly conceived as a show-piece guaranteed to win the soloist a warm ovation. Weigl was to write two more concertos: a second for piano (two hands), and a cello concerto, the latter neither published nor performed during his lifetime.

Since the revival in the 1990s of so-called ‘Entartete Musik’ or ‘Degenerate music’ – a label applied in the 1930s by the Nazi government in Germany to certain forms of music that it considered to be harmful or decadent – interest in Weigl’s music has grown. He still remains a largely unknown figure to most listeners. Moore concludes with: ‘It can be hoped that recordings such as this present one will help to further draw attention to his (Weigl’s) large and varied output which may yet contribute to the repertoire it was designed to enrich’. This is the ‘$64,000’ question for any composer’s music during that particularly dark side in world history. Its musical style is certainly not unique; Weigl’s musical language has evolved in much the same way, and to the same degree as many of his contemporaries unfortunate to have been caught up in the troubles of the time in Germany – and he was at least fortunate to have made it across to the States, where essentially he was musically unfettered once more.

In terms of the Concerto for piano (left hand) – this makes a welcome, though by no means vital addition to the extant repertoire – currently numbering some forty-four works (those for the right hand being considerably rarer at four or so.) The Violin Concerto, on the other hand, contributes to one of the most popular combinations in the entire genre. Taking both works together, their respective first movements can feel overlong, especially in the piano concerto, seem somewhat academic in concept, and have no big Romantic tunes to savour. Equally in their finales, while there has been a real conscious attempt by the composer to inject life and jollity by means of a dance-rhythm feel, they still appear somewhat stilted and almost reticent really to let go, and just enjoy themselves.

It is in the two slow movements – and especially the longer one from the violin concerto – that the CD really might achieve Moore’s objectives for it. There are some deeply moving passages here where Weigl appears to seem uninhibited and psychologically at peace. Given the quality of the playing and general clarity of the recording, this would argue strongly in favour of getting better acquainted with some of Weigl’s music, with the knock-on effect that more of his output does then become available.

Philip R Buttall


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