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Anton URSPRUCH (1850-1907)
Piano Concerto, Op. 9 in E flat major (1878) [41:39]
Symphony, Op. 14 in E flat major (1881) [50:38]
Oliver Triendl (piano)
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Georg Frizsch (Op. 9), Marcus Bosch (Op. 14)
rec. 2006/2009, Schützenhof, Herford, Germany
CPO 555 194-2 [41:39 + 50:38]

Anton Urspruch’s life centred on Frankfurt. He was born there in 1850, studied there with Ignaz Lachner and Joachim Raff, spending some time in Weimar as one of Franz Liszt’s favorite students, and taught first at the city’s Hoch Conservatory, then at the Raff-Konservatorium until his early death in 1907. He married Emmy Cranz, daughter of the music publisher August Cranz, in 1883. His oeuvre embraces diverse genres from operas, choral and orchestral works to chamber music, solo piano and vocal music. Towards the end of his life he developed an interest in the revival of Gregorian chant. His own music is firmly entrenched in the late romantic style, as the two works in this new recording eloquently testify. Sadly, most of his music seems to have fallen off the radar.

Only one piano concerto and one symphony flowed from the composer’s pen. Both were written within three years of each other, and both are in the same key of E flat major. The Piano Concerto, Op. 9, published in 1878, was dedicated to Urspruch’s teacher Joachim Raff, whose character can be occasionally glimpsed, especially in the opening movement. More of an influence, it seems to me, is Brahms, and to a lesser extent Schumann. The solo part is virtuosic, but certainly not tempered along Lisztian lines. The first movement, at just over 22 minutes, I thought is a tad overlong for the material and seems to outstay its welcome. The slow movement, the concerto’s emotional centre, overshadows the other two movements. One can luxuriate in the munificent seam of melody which pours forth with abundance. Oliver Triendl moulds the phrases eloquently. The finale is notable for its overweening tenacity. Triendl’s performance of the whole work is thoroughly convincing, technically assured and musically informed. Georg Fritzsch and the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie lend fine support.

The Symphony, dedicated to Urspruch’s wife Emmy, received its premiere in Wiesbaden in 1881. “Brahms is the only other composer who could have written it” was the verdict of a critic present at that performance. How right he was. The elder statesman hovers prominently in the background. You will not find anything ground-breaking in it though, and it is over-long. Though it enjoyed some popularity until about 1900, it has been virtually consigned to oblivion until this recording. The Beethovenian textures in the first movement radiate some lyrical charm, with the odd wistful glance back. There is some attractive woodwind writing in the melodious Adagio expressivo which follows. A sprightly, animated Scherzo precedes a fourth movement reminiscent of the opening movement of Schubert’s Ninth. Fortified with burnished brass, the movement provides a fitting finale of rhetorical eloquence. Marcus Bosch directs a compelling performance with a true sense of abandon.

I noticed that the recordings were set down some years ago: in 2009 (Concerto) and 2006 (Symphony). Quite why these refreshing performances have been gathering dust in CPO’s vaults for several years is not discussed. Well, not to worry, we have them now. They have been superbly recorded in warm, spacious sound. Enjoy!

Stephen Greenbank

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