Reznicek: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Four Songs. Frank Beermann, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt. CPO 777223-2.

If it weren't for the overture to Donna Diana (for which I am forever grateful to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon), many of us would probably never have heard of the Austrian-born composer and conductor Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945). Understandably, as most of his music went in and out of even the German repertoire rather quickly.

The Symphony No. 1 is a case in point. Resnicek wrote it in the early twentieth century, Felix Weingartner first performed it in 1903, and then it quickly disappeared. It only reemerged in the 1980s, and American conductor Gordon Wright gave it its first modern performance in the early 1990s, nearly ninety years after its première. I'm not sure it deserved its luckless fate, but it is, after all, hardly a work one can call memorable.

According to the booklet note, Resnicek intended the symphony as absolute music, with nothing more to guide a listener than the subtitle "Tragic" and a fleeting reference in the first movement to a tragic hero. Yet the composer goes on, nonetheless, to provide a program for the music, so broad it could mean almost anything but indicating certain psychological progressions from tragedy to heaven-knows-what. The work opens with a kind of fate-like theme that reflects echoes of Mahler, Bruckner, even Tchaikovsky, intertwining melancholy with despair. The second movement Scherzo, however, is all busy-bee, flitting hither and yon like one of Mendelssohn's sprites. The third movement Adagio changes the tone to one of wistful longing, some of it reminding a person of a lonely forest scene. Then the Finale wraps things up with dark, nighttime landscapes and quasi nightmares.

There must be a degree of comfort for a conductor like Frank Beermann, being among the only people ever to perform the work (and one of the few people to record it), since it gives us nothing, really, with which to compare it. We'll have to take Beermann's word on how it's supposed to go. On the minus side, I found the symphony fairly conventional in style and structure, with only moments of inspiration. Fortunately, Reznicek uses some imaginative orchestration, so the piece is never actually boring. And CPO's engineers do a decent job recording it, especially the midrange and treble, which are quite transparent, if a little forward. They could have done a little more with the bass, however, because that end of things goes wanting.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa