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Karl GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
Symphonic Poems Volume 2
Concert Overture Im Frühling, Op. 36 [10.34]
Symphonic Poem Zrinyi, Op. 47 [17.24]
Overture In Italien, Op. 49 [11.37]
Prelude Götz von Berlichingen [8.29]
Overture Aus Jugendtagen [14.30]
Prelude Ein Wintermärchen [12.53]
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/ Fabrice Bollon
rec. Konzerthalle Bamberg, 29 May- 1 June 2017, 23-26 January 2019
CPO 555 251-2 [76.07]

For many listeners, Karl Goldmark tends to be remembered as a one-hit composer. His colourful Peasant Wedding Symphony, premiered in 1876, was a firm favourite of Sir Thomas Beecham, and given its charms, has unsurprisingly retained a toehold in the concert repertoire. The evidence of this welcome disc reveals that there was nothing accidental about the success of this single work. The music here is colourful, deftly orchestrated, and with real charm of its own. This CD reveals a composer of prodigious talent. So, why the neglect? Perhaps it is an accident of history, that he occupied a musical place somewhere between Wagner and Brahms without ever quite developing a clear personal voice, or just that he has been unlucky. In his lifetime, his Op. 28 Violin Concerto was immensely popular, and more recently has found a few champions. Of his operas, The Queen of Sheba, remained in the repertoire of the Vienna State Opera until 1938. The other seven had much less success.

The works on the current CD cover many years of his career. The two Preludes are both from the first decade of the 20th Century, while the charming Concert Overture Im Frühling, op. 36, comes from two decades earlier. Accomplishment is evident in this generally light-hearted but affectionate piece. Examination of both the earlier and later works is informative: there is no evident development in style or personal voice: rather it is as if Goldmark developed his own rich idiom - and remained within it, perhaps too comfortably. It is not wholly surprising that by 1908, it seemed to Mahler and others as if Goldmark had little new to say. But for the listener today, we can perhaps enjoy this highly attractive mid-to-late romanticism just for itself.

Performances are both committed and unlikely to be quickly surpassed. Fabrice Bollon has the measure of the music, and real affection shines through.

I have frequently praised CPO for the quality and thoroughness of its accompanying documentation. Not so here: the ten – page essay by Eckhardt van den Hoogen, is tedious beyond words; and its overwrought dullness is at least matched by its pretentiousness. Two pages are spent attacking an unnamed author and book, one which apparently reduces the reader to ‘an ulcerous condition’ and the further statement: ‘ He who needs to rely on such sleights of hand loses his credibility rating just as quickly as Wildcat Hendricks when the fifth ace falls out of his ruffled sleeve…’ – and things don’t look up thereafter.

For all that, this is music to be enjoyed for itself – and it is very good to hear.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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