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Woldemar BARGIEL (1828 - 1897)
Symphony in C, Op. 30 (1880) [31:36]
Overture to Medea for large orchestra, inspired by Euripides’ tragedy, Op. 22 (c.1861) [10.38]
Intermezzo for Orchestra Op.46 (1880)
Andante con moto [7.02]
Overture to a Tragedy sor large orchestra, inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Op. 18 [14.54]
Orquesta Sinfonica de San Luis Potosi/Josť Miramontes Zapata
rec. live, Teatro de la Paz, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, June 2014
STERLING CDS1105-2 [64.14]

No, I hadn’t heard of him either, but one of the joys of reviewing is the encounter with the new and unexpected.

The question, with music as initially attractive as this, is why it is not better-known. The most evident is, I think, the problem of the very good composer living in an age of giants in the field. We find again and again in cultural history, the very fine overshadowed by towering genius. In art, think of Domenico Beccafumi in the shadow of Michelangelo, or, in music, Hummel’s lovely works compared with those of Beethoven. Bargiel is contemporary with Brahms, with Bruckner, with Wagner, and his stamp is not so original. My notes as I listened included comments such as ‘(Schumann?)’ and ‘(Brahms?)’. Chen I come across a composer new to me, I try first to listen to the music before I do any research of even read the notes in the booklet: I do not want to be prejudiced by incomplete prior knowledge. But, when I read the notes, I discovered close family ties to the Schumanns (Clara was his half-sister, and Robert recommended that he join Mendelssohn’s conservatory in Leipzig), Niels Gade was one of his teachers.

If you enjoy the music of any of those composers, this CD will not disappoint, but the music will not push the boundaries very much further. That sound like damnation by faint praise, yet there really is much to enjoy here, including some interesting details and an absolute technical mastery in a conservative idiom. The major work here is the symphony which opens the CD—think of Beethoven as transmuted via Mendelssohn and you will not be too far away from the idiom. There is striking use of contrasts and much energy. I found the three shorter pieces interesting, though here, as in the symphony, my impression was of formidable technical competence (nothing outstayed its welcome) but not a voice distinctly the composer’s own.

The live performances, conducted by Josť Miramontes Zapata have great energy and excitement, which serves the music very well. Commitment matters in presenting the less familiar, and it is on display here. There are moments of imperfect ensemble, but also very much to enjoy.

Overall, then, this CD is valuable in reminding us of the depth of the nineteenth century German tradition and it also demonstrates the range and extent of the influence of greater masters.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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