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Felix DRAESEKE (1835-1913)
Quintet in F major for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos, Op.77 (1900-01) [31:47]
Scene for violin & piano, Op.69 (1899) [9:18]
Quintet in B flat major for horn, string trio and piano, Op.48 (1888) [34.13]
Solistenensemble Berlin (Op.48, Op.69)
Georg Pohle (horn) (Op.48)
Breuninger Quartett (Op.77)
Felix Schwartz (viola) (Op.48)
Andreas Grünkorn (cello) (Op.48, Op.77)
rec. October & December 2009, Studiosaal der HfM ‘Hanns Eisler’, Berlin
CPO 555107-2 [75:44]

It’s not that long ago that I reviewed a disc featuring the Op.48 Quintet on the TYXart label, coupled with the richly melodic Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. I enjoyed the performances very much. This new CPO release presents the Op. 48 with a later quintet for strings alone. These two substantial chamber works bookend the Scene for violin & piano, Op. 69, a short work running just shy of ten minutes.

For the uninitiated, Felix Draeseke was born in Coburg, Germany in 1835. His parents wanted him to train for the clergy, but he had other ideas; his sights were set on music. He went to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. Early contact with Wagner’s music drew him towards the New German School and Franz Liszt. An early piano sonata in C sharp minor (1862-1867) greatly impressed Liszt, who considered it to rank as one of the most important works in this genre since the sonatas of Beethoven. He spent twelve fruitful years in French-speaking Switzerland, where he honed his compositional skills and produced his first two symphonies. In 1876 he relocated to Dresden. A hearing defect prevented him working as an active musician. He died in the city in 1913. His compositional oeuvre is wide-ranging, and includes symphonies, concertos, operas, chamber and piano music. Though his music isn’t widely known today, during his lifetime it had its advocates in figures such as Arthur Nikisch, Hans von Bülow and later in Fritz Reiner and Karl Böhm. It’s encouraging to see a resurgence in his work, with labels such as CPO and TYXart assuming the mantle. CPO have already released his symphonies and lieder.

The Quintet in B flat major for horn, string trio and piano, Op.48 was written in 1888. It has proved one of the more popular of the composer's scores. This must be the third or fourth version to make an appearance on disc. The first movement certainly has an allure, being generous on melody, and is memorably enticing. The horn assumes a  primus inter pares role. The Andante grave, which follows, may begin subdued and reticent, but soon begins to stride out into contrasting territories - introspective one minute, confidently assertive the next. Good humour and geniality inform the Presto. The arresting opening of the first movement puts in an appearance at the beginning and end of the finale. In between, an affable, easy-going discourse between all the instruments ensues and we can just sit back and savour the captivating music-making.

The String Quintet in F major dates from 1900-01. In contrast to the Op.48, it doesn't reveal its secrets as easily and, as far as I know, exists in only one other version on the obscure AK Coburg label. The work is veiled in an autumnal patina, more akin to Brahms than the Mendelssohnian flavour of Op. 48. Melancholy rubs shoulders with a more intensely impassioned aspect. The slow movement, which follows a sparkling Scherzo, is the emotional heart of the work, and I read somewhere that it has been referred to as 'an adagio that fell from heaven'. Draeseke's mellifluous melodic gifts flow freely and is soothing balm to the ears. The final movement is ushered in by a slow introduction. This soon becomes more animated and vigorous.

The Scene for Violin and Piano dates from 1889 and relates an encounter between young Heinrich and Marietta from Draeseke’s unperformed opera Bertran de Born (1892-94). This was the only time that the composer worked with this combination of instruments, setting aside his Violin Sonata, Op. 38, which is a version of the Clarinet Sonata. The narrative of the Scene combines fiery passion with moments of intense lyricism. I'm here thinking of the middle section, in which you encounter one of the most beguiling melodies I'm sure Draeseke ever penned. At the end, the music works up into a feverish climax. Matthias Wollong (violin) and Birgitta Wollenweber (piano) have full measure of the twists and turns of the music's undulating terrain, and offer a convincing performance.

These fascinating chamber works are well-recorded, and the commitment of all concerned pays rich dividends. Though the Op. 48 Quintet is common to both the CPO and TYXart releases, potential purchasers will be swayed by the couplings.

Stephen Greenbank



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