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Carl Loewe (1796-1869)
Symphony No.1 in E minor (1834)
Symphony No.2 in D minor (1835)
Themisto Overture
Jenaer Philharmonie/Simon Gaudenz
rec. 2019, Jena, Germany
CPO 555 319-2 [58:51]

Carl Loewe is better known for his numerous Lieder than for any other medium of expression. As a site search will demonstrate, his songs have been extensively and systematically recorded by CPO: 21 discs (cpo 777 355-2). That largely unsung hero of German Lieder, Michael Raucheisen recorded a great swathe of the songs (Preiser, Membran and Document) with Schwarzkopf, Anders, Greindl, Hotter, Strienz and Piltti. CPO’s set drew on various singers including front-rankers such as Edith Mathis, Monica Groop, Iris Vermillion, Christoph Prégardien, Robert Wörle, Roman Trekel, Andreas Schmidt and Kurt Moll, accompanied by Cord Garben.

If you have slaked your thirst for his Lieder then the time has come for hearing his two symphonies, each running to approaching half an hour. On the other hand, you may like to start with them. They were written, seemingly one after the other, within a decade of Beethoven’s death or, if you like, while Schumann was in his mid-twenties and some ten to fifteen years before his four symphonies. Neither composer is irrelevant to what you will hear.

The First Symphony (1834), like the second, is in four movements.  Both symphonies are fresh and invite con brio or even con fuoco treatment. In the case of the first, only in the finale did Loewe appear to run short of variegation of ideas. The gestures become repetitive but that is not a problem with the first three movements. The same can be said of the equivalent in the Second Symphony. The first three movements of the First Symphony fly along with all the combustibility of the flame-sped Arrows of Acestes (referenced in the Aeneid, I am assured). The Second Symphony (1835) takes a slightly steadier yet energetic line, with a stormy, lightning riven, scherzo. Overall, though, a “philosophic mind” is clearly alert at the controls. Each work - but especially the First - prompts thoughts about parallels with scores written before, and after, the Loewe pieces. Works that came to my mind include Schumann’s overture Julius Caesar and the Second and Third Symphonies, Mendelssohn’s Third and Fourth Symphonies and Ruy Blas and Beethoven’s Coriolan and Egmont overtures and Seventh Symphony.

Speaking of overtures, we end with Loewe’s Themisto. This is kith and kin with the blood-spattered tragedy of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. One source describes Themisto as the Greek princess who, having discovered that in executing her intended murder of “her husband's children by his previous wife” she ends up accidentally slaying her own sons. She commits suicide. This is a very short, indeed perfunctory, overture - less than five minutes - when the story could easily have sustained a twenty-minute tone poem.  It is, as expected, a tempest-wracked little torment of a piece.

It’s a point of pride that these three works are not treated like archive exhibits. The performances and recordings are not the stuff of bone china or exhibits handled with librarian’s gloves and wrapped in tissue paper. Instead, the Jenaer Philharmonie conducted by Simon Gaudenz blaze away with something more than confidence.

Dorit Schleissing wrote the liner-essay which is given in German and in English translation.

Rob Barnett

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