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Karl GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
Symphonic Poems - Volume 1
Sakuntala, Op. 13 (1865) [17:58]
Scherzo in E Minor, Op. 19 (1871) [6:02]
Penthesilea, Op. 31 (1880) [18:56]
Sappho, Op. 44 (1893) [19:07]
Scherzo in A Major, Op. 45 (1894) [7:50]
Bamberger Symphoniker/Fabrice Bollon
rec. 2017, Konzerthalle Bamberg, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Germany
CPO 555 160-2 [69:53]

Certain works lend their composer a secure place even through the dark times. Such was the case with the Lńndliche Hochzeit or Rustic Wedding Symphony which kept Karl Goldmark in the classical-music public's consciousness and record catalogues. Beecham played a part in this, preserved by Sony and Beulah as did Toscanini and Abravanel. Two other works were close runners up in the popularity stakes: the Violin Concerto, much loved by Nathan Milstein followed by GimpelŞ Perlman, Chang, Schmid and Irnberger. To some extent the opera Queen of Sheba also bookmarked Goldmark's prestige. The fortunes of Goldmark's orchestral and other music have been on the up since the mid-1990s. Hungaroton have quite naturally done a lot for him but other labels have ensured that his music forges ahead. CPO is one of these.

The present CD is an example following CPO's discs of Queen of Sheba, Rustic Wedding and other things. On this disc, the first of several, we get spirited performances and decently impactful recordings. The overture Sakuntala is more of a tone poem. When premiered in Vienna in 1865 it scored a success and hearing Bollon and the Bamberg orchestra that is no surprise at all. This work combines a predominance of swooning pages with some vengeful fortissimo passages. Goldmark leans on Schumann's sound (Overture, Scherzo and Finale) when he resorts to portrayal of turbulence with a touch of Brahms (Tragic Overture) in the warp and weft. He also looks forward from 1865 to the early years of the next century with sounds and styles that were adopted enthusiastically by Bantock in his battery of tone poems. That this overture follows a drama by the great Indian poet KÔlidÔsa hardly seems to matter rather like the Indian legendary sources of Bantock's sensational Thalaba the Destroyer. The two Scherzos from six years, and from thirty years later, have a decidedly Tchaikovskian accent. They're quite open-textured and with flyaway invention that takes wing they make a favourable impression. The later of the two also has some enlivening rumbustious writing which had Goldmark looking in the direction of Berlioz.

Heinrich Kleist's Penthesilea has Achilles and Diomedes bloodily entangling their futures with Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons. This attracted Othmar Schoeck in a resonantly and aggressively scored one-act opera in 1925. Goldmark's sturdy tone poem is from almost half a century earlier. It's more conventional (Tchaikovsky meets Brahms) than Sakuntala but at various points shakes loose music worthy of lush Hollywood in years to come. The Bambergers rise gloriously to the occasion and in the last four minutes make amends for any obvious choices made by Goldmark earlier in the work. There is some scorching action for the brass at various points and a quiet, brave and masterly close. The Greek poetess Sappho is the subject of the longest work here which is just shy of twenty minutes duration. The subject came to Goldmark through Franz Grillparzer's writings. It begins, Bantock-like, with luscious passes on the harp while a flute twines its way. This leads into a very animated triumph - echoing with shades that Elgar was later to exploit in his little-celebrated Froissart. As the work progresses it rapidly becomes stronger with many delightful touches including solo passages for the viola and the violin. In Sappho Goldmark returns to the excellent level of invention he found for Sakuntala. Sappho is a strong and imaginative work which is as effective in its many pages of poetry as in its moments of drama. You are likely to come away from these experiences with a very much elevated impression of Goldmark as a composer.

CPO's notes reminded me that the three overtures-cum-tone poems have heroines as their subjects. No doubt the next Goldmark disc from CPO will look in the direction of Merlin, In the Spring, In Italy and Prometheus. Some years ago Hungaroton issued an almost complementary Goldmark collection on HCD 12652-2: Budapest PO/Andrßs Kˇrodi: Sakuntala; Im Fruhling; Der gefesselte Prometheus and In Italien. No need to have any misgivings about the present CPO disc which is likely to induce enthusiasm and appetite for more Goldmark rather than anything else. Eckhardt van den Hoogen's deep-rooted booklet notes do nothing to dilute this.

Rob Barnett



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