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Emil Nikolaus von REZNIČEK (1860-1945)
Karneval-Suite im alten Still (1931/35) [14:05]
Traumspiel-Suite (1916/21) [26:27]
Symphonische Suite No.1 (1882) [28:20]
Weimar Staatskapelle/Stefan Solyom
rec. Weimarhalle, Wiemar, 2012
CPO 555 056-2 [69:25]

Emil Nikolaus Joseph, Freiherr von Reznicek was born in 1860, the son of an Austrian military noble and a Rumanian princess. ‘Freiherr’ was a title, roughly equivalent to ‘Baron’, of ancient origin in the Holy Roman Empire. He lived most of his life as an aristocrat and like Richard Strauss, he became entangled with the Nazi regime at a musically administrative level, but his wife was of Jewish stock and so he feared for her and his daughter. Musically, the Nazis didn’t think much of him, and several of his works were not performed in Germany. He was very friendly with Strauss, and although his music never became as popular, he was certainly very highly regarded in central Europe for much of his compositional career, and as all the recordings of his works show, he was the equal of Strauss as a master of the orchestra.

CPO have been industriously recording Reznicek’s output – the five symphonies (review ~ review ~ review), several lengthy symphonic poems and concertos (review), the operas ‘Ritter Blaubart’ (review), ‘Donna Diana’ (review), and ‘Benzin’ (review).

CPO have again put us in their debt by issuing another well-filled CD recorded seven years ago, containing a very early work composed when he was 22, a middle period work completed when he was 61 and one from his 75th year.

The first work on the CD is a suite in ‘olden style’ that Reznicek composed as an intermezzo for the 1931 opera The Gondolier of the Doge. It is a tableau in the style of 17th century dances, played as a carnival procession takes place, and contrasts with the rest of the opera which is modern. By issuing it as a stand-alone work, Reznicek felt it necessary to add the explanatory words “im alten Still” to its title. It isn’t like a neo-classical piece that one might hear from Stravinsky’s pen, because there is no prism of slightly ironic modernism overlaying the work. Instead it can be enjoyed for what it is, Reznicek’s quite straightforward take on the musical colours of the 17th century, played by a largish ensemble of modern instruments.

Next up is the Traumspiel-Suite dating from 1916-21. In six sections, it is a rearrangement of portions of the incidental music Reznicek composed for Strindberg’s play of the same name. The critical opinion at the time was that the music contributed greatly to the success of the production. Originally composed for a small group of players, Reznicek remarked that it could be played with an augmented string section, and it sounds to me that that is what we have here.

The play itself is designed by Strindberg to represent the curious metamorphoses that occur in dreams, where associative links lead to strange consequences. So, time moves backwards and forwards, whilst locations melt into each other. A garden has a castle growing as a plant which burns revealing a wall of tortured faces with a huge chrysanthemum at the top.

The war had been underway for about three years by the time the music was performed with the play, and the initial hopes of a quick resolution had given way to gloom. As such, the play probably chimed well with the attitude of many theatregoers. For musical considerations, the suite of music has the order of pieces changed from the order of scenes in the play, and Reznicek provided newly composed additions to some of the pieces, and combined others. The result is colourful music of varying moods, reflecting the phantasmagorical presentation on the stage. As with the Symphonic Suite that follows, a strong melodic gift is combined with an effortless command of the orchestra, especially considering that the original was composed for only seven instruments.

The earliest work recorded is the most substantial in length. Entitled Symphonic Suite No.1, Reznicek arranged to conduct it as part of his final examinations at the Leipzig Conservatory. Leipzig was a stronghold of musical conservatism, and the scherzo sections of the suite can be placed in the tradition of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fact that Reznicek’s examiners considered that the work was not constructed in strict classical symphonic form, resulted in Reznicek deciding to re-christen it as his First Orchestral Suite rather than his First Symphony. This did not prevent conservative critics denouncing it as thoroughly unsuitable for a graduation work from Leipzig. To our ears, this three-movement symphony, for large orchestra is influenced by Wagner, and Reznicek is interested in contrasting the moods of the music, rather than strict adherence to structure. Perhaps the most striking movement is the scherzo-finale (very fast and moving), which has a rather threatening, eerie quality to it – maybe the entire work has a programmatic origin, but if that was so, the composer left no indication of it, and the autograph manuscript has vanished.

I rather think that this very welcome CD consists of CPO wrapping up its orchestral recordings of Reznicek by rummaging around for his less formal works. As such, one might think that the music is little more than musical shavings from his work-bench. This would be a mistake, because the Orchestral Suite in particular has some very attractive and interesting music in it, orchestrated with imagination.

The recording is excellent and the playing of the Weimar Staatskapelle under Stefan Solyom is fully committed. As is usual with CPO, the booklet notes are comprehensive.

Jim Westhead



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