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Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954)
Orchestral Works - Volume 3
Don Gil de las calzas verdes, Vorspiel, Op 35/1 (1921-23) [5:49]
Tänze und Melodien: Suite aus der Oper Don Gil de las calzas verdes, Op 35/2 (1921-23) [13:19]
Konzertstück in C-sharp minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 64 (1946) [13:54]
Die Taubenhochzeit aus der Oper Die Vögel, Op 30. No 2 (1913-19) [6:37]
Serenade, Op 20 (1910) [23:27]
Piers Lane (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Johannes Wildner
rec. 8 April, 2014, Abbey Road Studio No 1, London; 10-12 November, 2012, Watford Colosseum

This is the third instalment of Dutton Epoch’s survey of the orchestral output of Walter Braunfels but it’s the first to have come my way. Once again the music is in the hands of the BBC Concert Orchestra and Johannes Wildner. Volume 1 included the Piano Concerto, Op 21 and the Schottische Fantasie for viola and orchestra, Op 47 (review). In Volume 2 among the pieces that Wildner offered were the Sinfonia Brevis, Op 69 and the Symphonic Variations, Op 15 (CDLX 7316). I had the opportunity to get to know Op 15 recently through a recording issued on another label (review).

I have been increasingly impressed with the music of Walter Braunfels with each opportunity I’ve had to hear it on disc. This disc is one to which I’ve listened with great pleasure every time I’ve played it and it seems to me to be an ideal introduction to this composer’s music if you’ve not previously experienced it.

One of the works receiving its first recording here is the Konzertstück for piano and orchestra. When the Nazis came to power in Germany Braunfels was branded as half-Jewish and was dismissed from his posts in 1933. However, he managed to get away with keeping a very low profile throughout the Nazi era, composing privately. The Konzertstück was a piece with which he re-established himself after the war; he himself played the solo part in the work’s 1946 premiere, which Eugen Jochum conducted. It’s a good piece and it benefits here from a fine performance by Piers Lane. There’s quite a substantial cadenza, lasting some three minutes; that’s a long time in the context of the work’s overall duration. Before that, there’s something of a rhetorical tone to the work’s first section. Then, in the second section springing, almost martial rhythms predominate, at least initially. The cadenza is discursive, elaborate and interesting and leads straight into an ebullient, virtuoso finale. I liked this piece very much.

Also recorded for the first time are the extracts from Braunfels’ opera, Don Gil de las calzas verdes (‘Don Gil of the Green Breeches’). He wrote this opera after the great success of Die Vögel. It had a very successful premiere but thereafter was subject to some negative criticism, it seems. As a result, Braunfels extracted the Prelude and a short suite, presumably in the hope of widening the appeal of the opera. The Prelude starts ebulliently, with some horn writing of which Richard Strauss would have approved, I’m sure. It’s a bubbling piece. I learned from the notes that Braunfels said that he “intended [the opera] to be a great Allegro con brio…” Well, the Prelude certainly lives up to that description. It’s a spirited and highly engaging opener to this programme.

The six-movement suite is no less enjoyable. I particularly liked the third movement, Arietta, which is marked Ruhig. This delightful movement is relaxed and richly melodious. The fifth movement, Interlude, features some ripe passages for the horns; it’s extrovert, high-spirited stuff. The scampering Finale dances its way merrily along. This suite is highly entertaining.

For some time Braunfels was principally represented in the catalogue by Lothar Zagrosek’s 1994 recording of the opera Die Vögel as part of Decca’s 'Entartete Musik' series. Here Johannes Wildner offers an orchestral excerpt. The notes, which are otherwise very helpful, have surprisingly little to say about this extract. It comes from Act II of the opera and in it the orchestra depicts the arrival of a male dove to woo his mate. He is successful and the music moves on to accompany their nesting together – to warmly romantic music - and the happy excitement of all the other birds. It’s colourful and highly engaging music and Wildner and the BBC Concert Orchestra play it splendidly. If you’ve not heard the highly imaginative opera then this extract may well whet your appetite.

The final offering on this programme is the Serenade. This is an earlier work that the others; it was written during the first few happy months of Braunfels’ marriage. Cast in four movements, it’s an absolute charmer with a strong melodic impulse coursing through the music’s veins from start to finish. Though the ideas are often rich Braunfels’ scoring is effective and the textures are consistently clear.

The first movement is warm and romantic and I especially like the lovely, tranquil conclusion. The quick second movement is light and nimble and it’s deftly delivered here. This is spirited, smiling music. At the work’s core is the slow movement, marked Ruhig. This winning creation is wonderfully melodious and beautifully scored. Wildner and the orchestra play it most sensitively. Braunfels wraps things up with another quick movement, following the slow movement without a break and marked to be played at roughly double the speed. There are some cheeky allusions to the Ride of the Valkyries and overall I agree with the annotator’s verdict that the music has an “elegant, summery character”. It’s a cheerful conclusion to a delightful work.

I’ve enjoyed this disc greatly. Almost all the music was new to me and I’m delighted to have discovered it. To the extent that I can judge, given my unfamiliarity, Wildner and the BBC orchestra do Braunfels proud here – certainly they’re completely up to the mark in the excerpt from Die Vögel, as a comparison with the Zagrosek recording confirmed.

We sampled the Don Gil de las calzas verdes prelude in the MusicWeb International Listening Studio not long ago. We were impressed by the recorded sound and when listening to the hybrid SACD on my own equipment I’ve been equally pleased with the results. As it happens, that track was the only one recorded in Abbey Road Studio No 1. The remainder were set down in the more spacious acoustic of Watford Colosseum. I didn’t detect any reduction in impact in the larger venue and, in fact, I rather liked the extra degree of ambience round the sound.

This is an excellent and very welcome addition to Dutton’s Braunfels series. More, please!

John Quinn



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