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Richard WETZ (1875-1935)
Symphony No. 3 (1920-22)
Symphonisches Orchester Berlin/Erich Peter
Rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, 28-31 Aug 1981, RIAS, Berlin DDD
originally issued on an Ars Musici LP in the early 1980s
Deutscher Romantiker series Volume 1
STERLING CDS1041-2 [58.46]

Richard Wetz’s name has sunk into musical oblivion, but the Silesian-born composer had won a small, but loyal, Central German following during his life. A series of desultory studies – with Jadassohn, Reinecke and Thuille – amounted to nothing, and it was only when he was taken up by Felix Weingartner that the solitary Wetz found a kindred spirit, though again it was not to flourish into a long-lasting friendship. Yet his music was performed by the magnetic Nikisch, remaining on the periphery of the contemporary German repertoire – orchestral as well as song repertoire.

It was Finnish composer Yrjö Kilpinen, who said of Wetz’s Third Symphony: “What a masterpiece! I can’t understand the Germans; why don’t they perform this music?” One answer may be that Austro-Germans already have a composer, whose symphonic music is predicated on similar lines to that of Wetz and he’s called Bruckner. Wetz’s Third Symphony is a kind of Brucknerian palimpsest, an hour-long traversal of the symphonic soul that embraces great richness and depth. It embraces Lisztian procedure, too, lest it be thought that Wetz is a mere Bruckner epigone. Yet those incendiary brass cells are so reflective of Brucknerian procedure that it adds a new element to one’s appreciation of Wetz’s isolationist position in German compositional life.

His slow movement is, in effect, a trauerlieder, richly upholstered, flowing out into rapt expressive density – though replete with moments of deft orchestration when section principals form a kind of chamber music sanctuary from the often overheated furnace of Brucknerian devotion. Wetz finally reaches B major in the Scherzo, boisterous, even Tchaikovskian in places with a contrastingly relaxed B section. In the finale, he revisits thematic material from earlier in the symphony, forging unity, generating a kind of cohesion that only a composer well versed in the metier and ethos could achieve. If Wetz were a mere musical mechanic, the listener would have been bored by now. It’s instead a tribute to his abilities that he generates a sense of coherence and logic alongside the monumental in this work. It may seem anachronistic to have written a symphony such as this between 1920 and 1922, but no more so than, say, Edmund Rubbra’s symphonies are “anachronistic”.

Erich Peter directs the forces of the Berlin Symphony with directness, power and acumen. Though this recording dates from 1981 it still serves as a testament to Wetz’s indomitable singularity of vision and his belief in symphonic verities.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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