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Felix WEINGARTNER (1863-1942)
Der Sturm - Overture (1918) [11:53]
Der Sturm - Suite (1918) [12:17]
Serenade for String Orchestra (1882) [12:06]
Symphony No. 4 in F major op. 61 (1916) [31:03]
Sinfonieorchester Basel/Marko Letonja
rec. Casino Basel Musiksaal 8 Sept 2003. DDD
CPO SACD 777 098-2 [67:49]

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Weingartner's music suffered the fated meted out to the music of so many conductors who also composed. Neglect dogs the progress of their music the moment they die.

And what of his music? There’s quite a bit of it. Amongst much else there are seven symphonies, the last being with solo voices and chorus. The eight operas (1884-1920) tackle the most gritty of subject matter from Sakuntala to Genesius, from Orestes (the complete trilogy) to Kain und Abel and Dame Kobbold. His final orchestral tone poem was Frühling and his final opera (still unperformed) is Der Apostat. There are two violin sonatas and five string quartets not to mention a string sextet, an octet (scored for the same resources as Schubert’s) and a clarinet quintet..

The overture to Der Sturm (Shakespeare’s Tempest) is an amalgam of Berliozian poetic flyaway delicacy and Lisztian Mephisto. There’s also a boiling, not to say deafening, whirl of sound; onomatopoeic in the manner of Sibelius’s, Nystroem’s and Britten’s storm pictures. That violence takes on a heroic and optimistic character at the end. The first movement of the suite to the incidental music ends with a section for solo organ in liturgical mode. The spirits and faeries dance jovially in the second movement. In Prospero's Sieg the mage comes over as a bit of a brutal bully-boy thundering and bellicose.

The Serenade for Strings is a compact four movement work. It can be heard as a Germanic echo of the Tchaikovsky Serenade though it lacks the Russian composer's intoxicated delight. Still it’s a gem of rediscovery - neither too long nor too short.

The Fourth Symphony was written in the midst of the Great War. All the same Weingartner stares determinedly towards the German countryside. The first of the four movements is dominated by a birdsong motif that aspires to more Olympian heights. Amidst this the shreds of a waltz obtrude. This is no rustic waltz but one with psychological fantasy - almost Ravel's La Valse. There is a gracious Andante con moto inflected by Brahms' Third and by Korngold. The third movement Comodo is hearty but not stodgy - recalling the bucolic quietude of Schubert's Great C major. The finale starts with some Mahlerian bubbling brass and a theme for the strings that dances and sings in equal measure. At times the music evokes a vision of children and farm animals kneeling in a country church bathed in morning light. The first movement's birdsong motif returns at the pinnacle to bring us full circle. The orchestration has the weightiness and density of Franz Schmidt without his psychological dimension. This is a symphony of rural grandeur.

Rob Barnett

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