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Symphonies 1 & 4

3.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 20, 2005
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$16.08 & FREE Shipping on orders over $49. Details Only 2 left in stock (more on the way). Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.

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5:59
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6:34
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 20, 2005)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: CPO
  • ASIN: B000AMMSP8
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #534,817 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
The issue of this CD marks the end of Jörg-Peter Weigle's cpo cycle of the symphonies by Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). And, all in all, it has proved a triumph, for Weigle and his pioneering German recording company cpo have now proved what a small number of experts and enthusiasts have long suspected: that Draeseke is the most important neglected nineteenth-century symphonist, and a composer of a stature equal with that of Brahms (who regarded him as his keenest rival)and Bruckner.

Draeseke's greatest symphony is undoubtedly his third, the 'Tragica', completed in 1886. Indeed, it is worthy to be ranked with the greatest symphonic creations of its time. The CD under consideration here, however, presents us with the first and last of his symphonies, dating respectively from 1868-72 and 1912. So what are they like, and how do they rank within the overall symphonic canon?

Symphony No.1, it must be remembered, predates the symphonies of Brahms and all those of Bruckner from No.3. When heard in its historical context, therefore, it emerges as a quite extraordinary achievement - at least the equal in quality of, say, Bruckner's second symphony. Furthermore, its slow movement is quite possibly the greatest of its kind between that of Schumann's second and Bruckner's seventh.

In trying to characterise the music, one thing is very obvious: this is emphatically not music of the conservative stamp of Brahms. Indeed, although still attached to the classical forms (symphony, concerto, etc.), Draeseke poured into them music which was clearly influenced by the New German School of Wagner and Liszt. Thus there is a harmonic daring, richness and even astringency which is quite different from the procedures of Brahms.
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Format: Audio CD
This disc labours under two disadvantages that must be pointed out to prospective buyers, especially those who have very scant notions on who Draeseke was and what he represents in the music of the 19th century.
First: The composer was not conspicuously gifted as far a melodic invention is concerned. This would be an automatic liability for any listener who expects a resemblance to (say) Brahms or Schumann. Draeseke's real forte was the invention of strong themes suitable for development in the Beethovenian sense, and are also malleable for strict counterpoint, at which he was very good. But this conflicts with his evident late romantic harmonic diction, powerfully influenced by Liszt and Wagner (whose camp follower he was for many years). In consequence there is a clearly discernible rift which (unlike Brahms) he never properly overcame. The fugues and canons and sundry other exercises tend to sound messy; and his symphonic developments sometimes begin to creak, when he runs out of ideas and resorts to padding. The symphonies on this disc show both liabilities: The first suffers from the incoherence of some of the melodic material that he spins out of a not-quite-suitable thematic content and becomes tiresome from its undue repetitiveness. The last is some kind of wordless comedy, which in the comparison with its model (probably Beethoven 8) seems clumsy and cumbersome, not to say oafish in one movement where the "humour" is turned on. Neither of these symphonies are a patch on what was obviously his peak effort, the 3rd Symphony.
The other liability is the lack of a performance tradition.
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Format: Audio CD
Among the also-rans of the late 19th century was Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). He began as an acolyte of Wagner, wound up moving more towards the Brahmsian camp. His First Symphony retains fingerprints of both those composers, but one can clearly hear him moving more towards the classicist approach of Brahms. Aside from the retention of some pretty hair-raising Wagnerish modulations, the style of the symphony is certainly Brahmsian. The First Symphony, although not Draeseke's first effort at a symphony, has more than its share of awkwardness. The first movement makes use of seemingly unending sequences, strange voice-leading, idiosyncratic harmonies. It and its subsequent movements are also marked by uninspired melody writing. The almost elfin Scherzo is the most winning of the four movements and in its day even had a life as a stand-alone piece, being published on its own. Although there is some beautiful playing, the slight tentativeness of the NDR Symphony in this symphony does not help the work make its case.

The 1912 Fourth Symphony (written when Draeseke was seventy-seven) is subtitled 'Symphony Comica' for reasons that escape me; it is presumably a counterbalance to the Third Symphony, the 'Symphonia Tragica' of 1886. The comedy here is lumpish at best; perhaps it's simply Teutonic humor, and indeed there are some echoes of 'Meistersinger' in its counterpoint at the service of good humor. But it misses the mark by rather a large margin. Again, there is a paucity of memorable melodic material, but the working-out is a good deal more seamless than in the first symphony.
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