Weber: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (CD review)

Also, Invitation to the Dance; Bassoon Concerto. Karen Geoghegan, bassoon; Juanjo Mena, BBC Philharmonic. Chandos CHAN 10748.

Think of German pianist, guitarist, conductor, critic, and composer Baron Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (1786-1826) as one of the early pioneers of the Romantic movement in classical music. Anyone with a name that long deserves a reputation for something. His operas Euryanthe, Oberon, and Der Freisch├╝tz were especially influential in establishing the use of the leitmotif (a short, constantly recurring musical phrase); Berlioz, Wagner, and others would soon follow suit in their music. Anyway, on this Chandos album with the BBC Philharmonic and their Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena we get one of Weber’s most-famous works, the Invitation to the Dance, along with his two Symphonies and the Bassoon Concerto. It’s a fair lot.

Mena begins with the Invitation to the Dance, perhaps to remind listeners of just where in the history of music Weber belongs. It is something folks would be most sure to recognize, as opposed to the other works on the disc. Weber originally composed the Invitation to the Dance for solo piano in 1819, and here we find it in the form we know it by most familiarly today, the orchestration Hector Berlioz made of it 1841 for ballet purposes. Mena begins the piece at a sweet, leisurely pace and then moves briskly into the main theme. The whole affair under Mena assumes a light, pleasant mood, punctuated by intervals of appropriate commotion. Weber composed the waltz for his wife, so you would expect an affectionate performance, which is what Mena gives us, along with a dance-like ballet feeling, which it later became.

Weber wrote his two symphonies when he was only twenty years old, publishing them shortly after Beethoven premiered his Eroica Symphony. Needless to say, Weber’s early work paled by comparison and sort of faded into obscurity. Still, the two pieces have a few interesting features, and Mena infuses the episodic score with a Rossini-like flair. Both symphonies are quite dramatic and betray a youthful desire to cover all things at once. So expect a lot of impetuous zeal in the music, which, again, Mena is happy to exploit. Like his First Symphony, Weber’s Second contains a little of everything; look for elements of opera, symphony, and ballet in here. It’s sort of fun, actually, if notably forgettable.

Unlike the two symphonies that flank it on both sides of the program, the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra involves some serious atmosphere, color, and flavor. Mena takes a no-nonsense approach to it, and it comes off as a mellow yet fairly cheerful work. Soloist Karen Geoghegan’s playing is lyrical, melancholy, dynamic, exhilarating, and playful as the opportunities arise. The Concerto is a highlight of the album.

Chandos made this 24-bit/96 kHz recording in 2012 at MediaCity UK, Salford, England. The sound is just transparent enough to provide some excellent detailing, even if it doesn’t quite reach audiophile standards because it’s a tad lean and forward. The sound always remains well spread out between the two front speakers, with a precise placement of instruments that doesn’t appear too compartmentalized. Ralph Couzens produced the disc, and he’s always pretty particular about making good, natural-sounding recordings. There is also a pleasing sense of air and space around the instruments, a mild concert-hall resonance, and a modest degree of depth involved.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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