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Jaromír WEINBERGER (1896-1967)
Pieces from Schwanda the Bagpiper (1927)
Bohemian Songs & Dances I-VI (1929)
Overture, The Beloved Voice (1930)
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie/Karl-Heinz Steffens
rec. 2009, Staatsphilharmonie, Ludwighofen am Rhein, Germany
CPO 777513-2 [55:18]

Little is heard of the Czechoslovakian composer, Jaromír Weinberger, apart from his opera Schwanda the Bagpiper. He had attended the Prague Conservatory from the age of 14, and went on to study music at a higher level in Leipzig before moving to New York in 1922. Schwanda was well received at its premiere in Prague in 1927, yet to the ear it seems to contain in its score little of the classical European colour of the time.

Markus Bruderreck’s upbeat notes put the composer on a similar plane to Weinberger’s contemporaries, but I think that maybe his style was ahead of fashion to have been fully appreciated at the time. This said, there are close similarities with Smetana in certain characteristics of orchestration and style. In Weinberger’s lively Bohemian Dances I find more than a passing nod to Brahms in his Hungarian folk dances, written sixty years earlier.

Schwanda has been kept alive during the late 20th Century by its memorable Polka, although a successful Wexford production has been recorded (review). I suspect that this recording uses the original orchestration. If it does, it is a pity that the melody line of the dance is heavily masked by counterpoint from sections of the orchestra. The other non-vocal pieces from the opera represented here are less memorable, yet are equally energetic and fresh in their character.

The cycle of six Bohemian Songs and Dances were written, we are told, as a result of the success of Schwanda and the encouragement the composer was given.They are delightfully light and a contrast from the heavy orchestration of the opera tracks, yet they are not as lightly scored as Brahms’ famous dances. The recording benefits from crisp string playing by the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie, particularly elegant in the fourth and the fifth dance.

The Beloved Voice is an opera presented by the Bavarian State Opera in 1931. The work did not impress, and soon faded from the opera repertoire. So its overture is somewhat of a curiosity and I, for one, am pleased that it has been included. The opera’s slight story involves a maiden who decides she will love the man behind an unknown singer’s voice she has heard. A tower owned by the family in the story has to be demolished because it stands in the way of a new road to be built, but the problem is eventually overcome when a letter brings a reprieve. The joyous owner of the tower sings of his happiness. On hearing this the maiden discovers the owner of the mysterious voice; she can now fulfil her wish to marry the voice’s owner. Following a bustling opening, one of the themes in this sprightly overture is particularly engaging. The listener has to be impressed by the skill of Weinberger’s writing in the first section. A Moorish influence to the music follows to coincide with a Mosque setting for the marriage. A bright coda then brings the eight-minute piece to a conclusion.

Raymond J Walker

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