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 Freischütz 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: