Symphony No. 1 in G major, Op. 12
Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR conducted by Jorg-Peter Weigle
A review by Calum MacDonald (International Record Review January 2006)
Listen to excerpts of this recording (courtesy of cpo):
Producers Dirk Lüdemann, Frank Lipp. Engineer Björn Brigsne. Dates August 19th-23rd, 2002.
Draeseke's official First Symphony, in G (there was an early Symphony in C, which he seems to have destroyed) evolved between 1868 and 1872. Apart from a slightly meretricious finale it's an interesting and enjoyable piece, with more affinity to Schumann and, perhaps surprisingly, Brahms than to Draeseke's erstwhile heroes Liszt and Wagner: though there is a certain strain in it attributable to Meistersinger, whose Munich première Draeseke had attended shortly before he began work on the piece. In fact he was not far advanced with it before he finally broke with Wagner over the 'Cosima affair', and the symphony's clear Classicism might be regarded as a public rejection of the whole 'Music of the Future' school. There's a powerful introduction and Allegro for the first movement, a sprightly Scherzo which became so popular for a while it was performed and published separately, and a warmly romantic Adagio, which is the most extended movement in the piece. This work has already been well recorded by Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold with the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by George Hanson, but I find this new account benefits from the tauter rein that Jörg-Peter Weigle keeps upon any tendency of the argument to ramble: his tempos are measurably faster in the first and third movements, and the orchestral playing is more incisive. Perhaps (I'm only guessing) he had more rehearsal time at his disposal, for Draeseke's scores had a reputation for difficulty in their own time.
Weigle is by contrast more expansive than Hanson in the Overture to Gudrun, Draeseke's third opera, and its stylistic juxtapositions benefit from having more room to breathe. Written in 1882 before the opera itself, this is a large-scale piece and an effective concert-opener that contrasts a very Wagnerian, even Tristan-esque opening with a bouncy allegro in the tradition of Weber; the development turns fugal, displaying Draeseke the almost obsessive contrapuntist, and the closing pages instate one of the main melodies as a grandiose chorale.
Draeseke's most famous work, and his most effective symphony, was No. 3, the Sinfonia Tragica of 1885-86. The Symphonia Comica of a quarter-century later, which has remained in the deepest obscurity until now, seems to have been conceived as a 'light' counterpart to that work; but it also belongs to a last and unfamiliar stage of Draeseke's stylistic development. The piece is a kind of agile, rumbustious sinfonietta, full of lightning tonal sideslips that suggest Draeseke had not been beyond absorbing a thing or three from Richard Strauss's symphonic poems. In fact, the supposed slow movement, most of which proceeds at a fast scherzando pace, is a bizarre little tone-poem inspired by a 1911 plague of flies in the Draeseke household, and depicts the composer unsuccessfully attempting to get some rest while his grandchildren rush about industriously swatting the invading insects. The leading fly gets a violin solo worthy of a Strauss tone-poem heroine. The Scherzo has a fine parody of a country-dance trio, complete with bagpipe drones and orchestral animal noises, and the outer movements go with tremendous élan, traversing a lot of tonal territory in very concise forms. It's a nice piece to know and softens one's previous impression of Draeseke as a composer whose undoubted ambitions tended to be undercut by his own earnestness. The performance seems excellent.
The recording is admirably vivid throughout. As with the other discs in this CPO series the issue benefits from exceedingly well-informed and sympathetic notes (not always idiomatically translated) by Christoph Schlüren.
Reprinted, with permission, from: International Record Review; January 2006.
© All contents copyright by the International Draeseke Society