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Franz LACHNER (1803-1890)
Symphony No. 3, Op. 41 in D minor (1834) [47:49]
Festival Overture in E flat major (1854) [12:08]
Evergreen Symphony Orchestra/Gernot Schmalfuss
rec. 2016, Keelung City Cultural Center, Taipei, Taiwan
CPO 555 081-2 [60:14]

The German label Classic Produktion Osnabrück is represented on its recording materials and website by its initials in lower-case letters: cpo. Matching the unusual moniker is the label’s tendency to present little-known orchestral and instrumental fare, sometimes aiding in the rediscovery of a composer or work worthy of greater attention, if not reassessment. That’s the case here, with the Third Symphony (1834) of Franz Lachner. Though the influence of Beethoven is apparent in this composition, Lachner does not imitate or rely significantly on him and, in all fairness, hardly any other composer in the first half of the 19th century, and even beyond, could escape Beethoven’s influence.

One must note that influence goes the other way too: Lachner’s style appears to anticipate Schumann, as in the 1841 Symphony No. 1 (‘Spring’) and No. 2 (1845-46) – I will say more about this later. There are some similarities with the style of Mendelssohn as well, but Lachner and Mendelssohn were close contemporaries and may actually have influenced each other. In any case, the more one listens to this Lachner symphony, the more one forgets about influences, whether assimilated or emitted, and hears a mostly distinctive voice who appears to be unjustly neglected.

In three of the four movements of this symphony, the music is very energetic and brimming with ideas and interesting twists and turns. Even the slow third movement, Andante con moto quasi Allegretto, is fairly lively, as its marking suggests. The first movement consists of two groups of themes: Bert Hagels, in his excellent and highly detailed album notes, refers to them as thematic blocks, since there is much secondary material attached to each of the main themes. The first one is very driven and intense, though with a more muscular and vibrant demeanour than an angry or anxious one. The second theme is less hurried and rather warmly lyrical. There is a repeat and then a very busy development section ensues, featuring some interesting contrapuntal activity. A recapitulation follows and a coda to crown this structurally solid sonata-form opening panel.

The Scherzo comes next and offers a most vivacious and elegant main theme, eighth notes scampering about playfully, the strings in a constant hurry. Again it is very contrapuntal, and the music seems to anticipate, at least in spirit if not in side-by-side comparison, the main theme in the Scherzo of Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. The Trio is relatively relaxed and rather nonchalant in its chipper character. The ensuing panel, as suggested above, is quite animated for a slow movement. It is in three parts and opens with a rather cheerful main section. The music is developed later and while it sometimes seems to be working up some tension, it resolves in a sort of stately yet playful way. The finale, structurally patterned after the first movement but lighter in mood, brims with energy and celebration. The coda is absolutely ecstatic in its triumph, closing this wonderful work in fine style. At just over ten minutes, the finale is the shortest of the four movements, the whole work clocking in at nearly forty-eight minutes.

The Festive Overture is festive indeed, if compromised a bit by some bombast, albeit colorful bombast. There are two different endings to the work, the first featuring use of the Bavarian royal anthem, and the second, which is played here, employing the Austrian emperor’s anthem, in use today as the German national anthem. The work launches with a somber introduction, then breaks away with cymbals, triangle and cackling brass spicing the celebratory music. A serene version of the anthem on strings changes the mood dramatically, and then a pompous and rather stiffly regal rendition of it closes the Overture. That it may have been written for the April 24, 1854 wedding of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Elizabeth, a Bavarian Duchess, is supported, among other things, by the fact that the composition’s manuscript bears the date of February 22, 1854. Anyway, coming twenty years after the symphony, this work’s orchestration and style appear to show little advancement by Lachner, and thus while it is a nice piece of light music, it is not a major rediscovery.

In both works the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra play very well under the knowing baton of Gernot Schmalfuss, music director and chief conductor since 2007. The ensemble is a Taiwan-based group of mostly young musicians who perform with great spirit and precision, if I can judge from this recording and several performances on YouTube. The sound reproduction provided by cpo is vivid and well balanced. As for competition, there appear to be no alternatives currently listed for these works. Thus, if you’re interested in a little-known voice from the Romantic period who produced at least one very compelling symphony (and maybe much else), then you likely won’t be disappointed by this fine CD.

Robert Cummings

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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