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Karl GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
Symphonic Poems - Volume 2
Overture: Im Frühling, Op. 36 (1889) [10:34]
Zrinyi, symphonic tone poem, Op.47 (1903) [17:24]
Overture: In Italien, Op. 49 (1903) [11:37]
Prelude; Götz von Berlichingen (1902) [8:29]
Overture: Aus Jugendtagen, Op.53 (1909) [14:30]
Prelude; Ein Wintermärchen (1907) [12:53]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Fabrice Bollon
rec. Konzerhalle Bambergm Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, 2017 and 2019
CPO 555 251-2 [76:07]

The first volume in this series made my 2019 Recordings of the Year list (see review) and now here is the second. If it’s not going to make my 2020 cut, that’s no reflection of the performances and direction, which are alike as excellent as before, but perhaps because the music is not quite as elevated as that inaugural volume though lacking for little in lyricism and verve.

As Goldmark didn’t operate on a truly symphonic scale, you will find instead a beguiling mix of concert overtures, symphonic tone poems, overtures and operatic preludes. The earliest piece is Im Fruhling, a concert overture of 1889, deftly orchestrated as ever with Goldmark, the woodwinds’ avian sweetness full of mellifluous and generous warmth. There’s some gorgeously languid twilit music that glows with loving intimacy before Goldmark brings the music to a fulsome close. One of the pieces he didn’t sanction for publication was Zrinyi, a symphonic poem of 1903. The subject was a Hungarian patriot who met a hero’s death defending his native country from invading Turks. Given Goldmark’s nationality the subject matter is apposite but after the work’s Budapest premiere, conducted by the composer, he revised it and seems to have shown no genuine enthusiasm to promote it further. It’s a relatively long work at seventeen minutes and clearly very episodic. The expected Lisztian influence isn’t audible, given the music lacks Lisztian fire and, to be honest, tension. Goldmark was now 73 so perhaps the glorious, if possibly bombastic, element of the narrative didn’t appeal to him; the music is largely sedate and leisurely, even at points dapper, and whilst he rouses himself to deliver a stentorian brass theme and the climax is grandness itself, the work lacks a true Goldmarkian spark.

Very much different is the genial, felicitous and very amiable In Italien, an orchestral overture composed in the same year as Zrinyi. Attractive themes almost fall over themselves and there’s a lovely and very slow second subject to savour, the work closing in a brassy and percussion-full fiesta of unserious fun; Goldmark at something like his most unbuttoned. Premiered in Budapest in 1902 and revised for its Viennese premiere eight years later, the Prelude to Götz von Berluchingen preserves a sterner and courtlier Goldmark, given the operatic context of the work, taken from Goethe. There is a knightly element couched in nobilmente fashion, hints of Mastersingers too, and plenty of punchy brio.

It’s evident by now that even within the time-span of these works – almost everything was written a nine-year span - Goldmark is capable of some variety of expression and means. His orchestration is never less than bewitching, his sense of colour-conscious interplay equally so. His 1909 overture Aus Jugendtagen is stately and generously episodic, threaded cleverly and contrasting with trim faster sections. The final work is the prelude to his three-act opera Ein Wintermärchen, after The Winter’s Tale. This is dramatically finely paced with attractive themes and a rich amalgam of cantilena and dramatic span. He uses the horns especially well and summons up a ripe atmosphere.

As before the voluminous notes are by Eckhardt van den Hoogen. Susan Marie Praeder has done her best with the translation into English but reading van Hoogen, my bête noir in the world of booklet notes, is like stumbling into a vast, dark wood; one gropes blindly, grasping thick substantial trunks but can’t orientate oneself at all, simply going around in maddening circles.

But getting back to the music, once again Fabrice Bollon directs the Bamberg forces with great care and precision, ensuring sectional balance is precise and that Goldmark’s melodies expand and ripen. This is a really fine series.

Jonathan Woolf

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