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Felix WOYRSCH (1860-1944)
Symphony No. 4 op. 71 (1930) [34:09]
Symphony No. 5 op. 75 (1935) [21:09]
Gartenszene nach Szenen aus GoethesFaust” (1940s) [5:26]
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Thomas Dorsch
rec. Großer Sendesaal des Landesfunkhaus Hannover, 9-13 Feb 2015
CPO 555 063-2 [60:44]

Woyrsch, the composer of six symphonies (1908-1937?), of which now only the last is unrecorded, was born in Silesia. He grew up in two great musical metropolises, Dresden and Hamburg. His living was earned as a choir director and organist in Altona, one of the western suburbs of Hamburg. As Mike Herman has pointed out, he also wrote operas, chamber, organ, piano and vocal works.

Here are two of Woyrsch's symphonies - each in four movements. They are of radically different durations (34 minutes) and (21 minutes) so that's a first step towards being unlikely to tax the endurance of your attention. The music is late-romantic and not revolutionary in any obvious way. The expressionism of early Schoenberg or of Schreker or Zemlinsky was not for Woyrsch. He may have been of the same generation as Mahler but he was not to follow in a similar track, nor was he any advocate (at least in his own music) of the colossal tendencies of Bruno Walter or Siegmund Von Hausegger. If anything, his music leans towards and croons with affection after the examples of Brahms, Schumann and Pfitzner.

The Fourth Symphony was completed on his seventieth birthday, Its outer movements are characterised by being tirelessly dogged and defiant in the manner of Brahms' Tragic Overture and Schumann's Overture, Scherzo and Finale. Their stop-start structures enclose two internal movements that speak of and induce calm. The penultimate minuet looks back to delicately executed Rococo examples. The slow second movement recalls the less animated paragraphs of the much later Korngold Symphony. The music is neither as thicket-strewn nor as overwhelming piled-high and magnificent as Bruno Walter’s First Symphony. Woyrsch was gifted with a glorious gift for clarity.

From five years later, the Fifth Symphony opens with a doggedness and persistence familiar from the other movements of the Fourth. The next two movements are in turn subdued, stern and streamingly affectionate. In the third, carefree play is almost as crucial as it is to Parry in his Fourth Symphony. The Gartenszene nach Szenen aus Goethes Faust is his last work according to CPO's resplendent liner-notes. The modest role for solo cello is taken with quiet competence by Nikolai Schneider. This Garden Scene is gentle and thoughtful, even if the tenuous suggestion of a grey cloud passes by at 4:20. It forms part of a projected but unachieved three-movement suite. Its mood certainly fits it for the middle movement of such a work.

Neither this disc nor the composer are new to this site. Brian Wilson clearly enjoyed this recording (picking it as a Discovery of the Month), but Jim Westhead was less impressed. Byzantion, whose reviews I miss considerably, had a very thorough crack at the Second Symphony, again on CPO. There are six symphonies in all but the MD&G Gold CD (329 0588-2 - Miguel Gómez-Martinez/Hamburg SO) of the First Symphony in C minor, Op. 52 (1908) came out in 1995 and so missed MusicWeb International coverage. It can still be had, at a price, on Amazon. The Third Symphony has been issued by CPO (777 923-2) but as yet not reviewed here.

CPO, Thomas Dorsch and his orchestras continue to document Woyrsch's musical legacy and makes it live and shine again.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Jim Westhead

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