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Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Symphony No. 9 The Bitonal (1930) [16:46]
Serenade in E major (1902) [19:38]
Symphony No. 21 in A minor (1931) [19:10]
Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester/David Porcelijn
rec. Konzerthalle Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Frankfurt Oder, 28 November-3 December 2005
CPO 777 120-2 [55:37]

CPO here add two more Röntgen symphonies to their already extensive library of his orchestral music. He wrote a total of twenty-five symphonies and as he told Donald Tovey, who premiered his Seventh Symphony in Edinburgh, he wrote six of these in 1930, such was his creative compulsion even in his latter years.

The Ninth Symphony enjoys close-up and grippingly immediate sound with plenty of instrumental detail. The curvaceous yet icy writing for woodwind at the start of this single-movement structure proves an object lesson in well captured sound. This music - which is not particularly modern sounding, if you are wondering about its title - often has the feel of some haunted ballroom. It has nothing of the symphonic epic but instead exudes a sleepy Tchaikovskian innocence. Gallic chirping woodwind finally give way to a Berlioz-style storm at 7.05 and to a whirl of exultation.

The Serenade is in four movements. It's a work of shimmering fullness where again Tchaikovsky seems to have been an influence. This music has an open-hearted warmth that irradiates some generously upholstered textures. It's a most aristocratic work with a Winter Daydreams character that amiably flickers and gurgles. The third movement is a Poco Andante with a light Brahmsian accent. The finale is taken at a refreshing 'horse cavalry' clip which softens into a chivalric ballroom feel and then fades into the same glow one hears in Brahms' Third Symphony. Despite the early date Röntgen proves himself a far from garrulous composer; he knows when to stop.

The Twenty-First Symphony runs to twenty minutes and is in one movement. It is linked with the flanking symphonies and with the cantata Sulamith for soprano, tenor, women choir and orchestra. This is not at all playful but a work of serious stress from the early 1930s close to the end of the composer's life. Great waves of surging sound (4.25) suggest Röntgen toiling over the orchestration of a Bach organ piece. At this stage in his life he is not given to slipping into an uncomplicated smile - this is serious business. The effect is of a somewhat subdued Lutheran heaven. Magical unglossy ideas stream past even if some of them 'tip the hat' towards the more seraphic moments of Brahms' Fourth. At 16:30 brassy rolling fanfares and upward-urging strings provide a heaving foundation for a majestic climax pummelled out by the drums.

The useful notes, in German and English, are by Jurjen Vis.

Porcelijn seems a sympathetic, indeed inspired, guide through so much otherwise 'lost' Röntgen. Long may he continue his work for this composer with the various German regional orchestras and with CPO.

Given that these recordings were made more than twelve years ago one wonders how many other Röntgen symphonies are "in the can" and queued ready for issue. I hope that CPO will issue more. Who knows, a complete cycle might be possible.

Rob Barnett



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