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.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa