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Jaromir WEINBERGER (1896–1967)
Ouvertüre zu einem ritterlichen Spiel (Overture to a Chivalrous Play) (1931) [8:40]
Six Bohemian Songs and Dances (1929) [29:53]
Passacaglia for organ and large orchestra (1932) [18:19]
Jörg Strodthoff (organ)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Gerd Albrecht
rec. Berlin Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Sept 2000, April 2002
CAPRICCIO C5272 [56:52]

From the current perspective Weinberger is another of those "one hit wonders": a bit like Reznicek, Nicolai and Flotow. In Jaromir Weinberger's case it was the opera Schwanda the Bagpiper; not the whole thing mind you - just one bipartite orchestral morsel: the Polka and Fugue. This piece was championed by amongst others, Charles Mackerras who included it in the 1959 Pro Arte sessions which also brought collectors Janacek's Sinfonietta. Others of the faithful include Erich Kunzel, Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Kempe (Testament) and Karajan (EMI/IMG). The whole opera is easy to come by now: if you don't have the Heinz Wallberg CBS/Sony set there's a widely available alternative courtesy of the blessed Naxos (review review). The Weinberger work-list includes two estimable pieces I know from off-air recordings: the Lincoln Symphony (1941) once conducted by Eugene Goossens in New York and the Saxophone Concerto (1940) which at one time was played by the redoubtable William Trimble. Now is not the time to leaf through all the Weinberger titles but several are worthy of mention: he wrote an opera on Bret Harte's story 'The Outcasts of Poker Flats' and there are at least two Poe-inspired works from the 1940s: The Devil in the Belfry for violin and orchestra - also a source of inspiration for Sorabji - and The Raven for cello, bass clarinet, harp and string orchestra which drew orchestral scores from Dubensky, Morawski and Holbrooke (see Marco Polo and CPO). Like many another of his generation, Weinberger, who was born in Prague, was swept from state to state in the 1930s and ended his days in the USA. He had his popular success with Schwanda but despite a very productive mind could not find new fame with his later works. Mind you, many a composer out there might have been pleased to have had one success. It certainly gave him a niche in history - no matter how narrow - and continues to do so.

The works on this Capriccio disc were practically unknown as musical experiences. The delightful picaresque Overture is quite filmic with some unusual eldritch moments. It's maybe a touch Straussian but not densely lush. There's a hint of Korngold, Waxman and even Mahler. The brass writing is brilliant, being nicely captured in a wide and deep acoustic which is kind to both the fine filigree as well as the swagger and romping heroics. The strings do have a slightly steely sheen but nothing really untoward and no obstacle to enjoyment. The Six Bohemian Songs and Dances are in the form of a suite for solo violin — here sweetly taken by the leader of the DSO Berlin — and orchestra. It's a mistily nostalgic, fragrantly delicate and rosily sentimental score. The graceful last three movements owe a debt to Smetana and to Schwanda. The Passacaglia, rather like the Overture, suggests Weinberger would have been a dab-hand at writing scores for Olympic opening ceremonies. In this he shares the faculty with his compatriot Josef Suk in his Legend of Dead Victors and the march Towards a New Life. The organ plays a relatively low-key and dignified role in this four movement piece. The spectral Fuga finale manages through a most imaginative fantasy to escape the worst fustian of fugal writing even if it does end with Korngold-like brassy swagger.

The helpful notes (in German and English) are by Christian Heindl. They complete a useful disc that serves once again to widen our horizons of appreciation and musical pleasure.

Rob Barnett



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