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Wagnerian colours

Draeseke's Symphonia tragica,

cpo    999 581-2

Felix Draeseke: Symphony No 3 'Tragica' (c) 2000 cpo


A century ago Draeseke's name was mentioned in the same breath as Brahms and Bruckner. Like Bruch, he to some extent fell out of fashion after l9l8. But another reason for his comparative neglect may be the reverse of the 'Entartete Musik' story. Music accepted, favoured, adopted or promoted in the Nazi era later earned its own kind of disfavour, and Draeseke's widow did his reputation as little good as Nietzsche's sister did his. Draeseke's Third, or 'Tragic' Symphony (sketched 1886; its slow movement is a sombre lament, the first of two on this disc) was actually recorded in l942 by the Goebbels-supervised Abteilung X Musik, part of the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, and the recording was reissued later under various pseudonyms. Furtwängler, like Brahms himself, admired it, but (unlike Hans von Bülow, who gave three acclaimed Berlin performances, and Arthur Nikisch) later declined to conduct it.

Leipzig-trained Felix Draeseke, professor at Dresden at the time of the symphony's composition, was a popular enthusiast for the Liszt-Wagner school, as two early operas -- Sigurd and Gudrun, plus his last, Merlin, as well as his Kleist cantata Germania an ihre Kinder and four-part oratorio Christus, attest. You can hear it loud and clear in the central stages of the slow movement here, but there are other moods -- the orchestration of the post-Schubertian scherzo, for instance, (finely played here), has more akin to the Russians, while the trio is a lovely rural, semi-ländlerish dance. The unusually vital and increasingly dark-hued finale which grows out of mysterious lower-string beginnings is arguably the finest movement, again wearing its Wagnerian operatic colours openly, and culminating in an inspired, unexpected apotheosis. The noble Funeral March op 79, written in memory of the German dead of the late l9th century African wars, is not bombastic, but launches with a Mendelssohnian chorale, and follows with a passage as dark as the funereal bars of Elgar's second symphony, and several resplendent brass surges that feel straight out of Bruckner's last works (Draeseke actually composed it soon after the appearance of Bruckner's Eighth). There is again some fine string playing from the Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR under conductor Jörg-Peter Weigle, though in the symphony's first movement there is the occasional lack of clarity. As so often with CPO, the sleevenotes are a valuable mine of information.


Copyright © 10 January 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK







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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews