A Mahlerian 1st
Valerie Wilson | Cambridge, MA United States | 09/14/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Egon Wellesz isn't exactly a household name, but cpo is apparently planning to record all 9 of his symphonies. (Two other disc are currently available--if you can find them--containing #s 2 & 9 and # 4, 6 & 7. Presumable numbers 3 & 5 will be along eventually.) They trace a clear path from Mahlerian late romanticism into a more abstract, more chromatic style that is difficult to differentiate from a lot of other "academic" composers of the mid-20th century.
As a result, it's not surprising that the 1st symphony on this disc is more memorable than the 8th, or the late "Symphonic Epilog". In fact, the 1st is a fascinating essay that combines a lot of Mahler with some Vaughan Williams, of all people. It is laid out along clear formal lines, with distinct themes that undergo development.
Thus, in the first movement we get an angular theme that could have been found in a late Mahler symphony followed by a brief, more fluid theme that echoes VW. The first theme is then treated to a fugal development before the expected recapitulation.
The second and third movements are more striking. The second is along the lines of a sinister moto perpetuo scherzo with a long angular theme over a repeated 5 note figure. The trio is pure Mahler. Mahler also dominates the slow finale which apes some of the sounds of the Adagio that closes Mahler 9. although Wellesz doesn't extend his movement to the excessive (some would say heavenly) lengths that Mahler does. It ends peacefully with fragments of the themes fading away.
Compared with the 1st, the 8th and Symphonic Epilog are much tougher nuts to crack. Built around chromatic themes with large intervals, the 8th doesn't particularly leave much of an impression beyond tortured confusion. It has a few nice patches, but I probably won't be returning to it much.
A word about the perfomances. As I suspect we won't be getting another Wellesz 1st anytime soon, I have to recommend the disc, but I wish Maestro Rabl and his orchestra had lived with this piece longer. There's a tentative feel to the tempos in the first 2 movements which inhibit their effect. Plus, Rabl seems to push a pull the tempo around in ways that don't always reflect the will of the music. He doesn't seemed to have plated the piece enough to really feel its ebb and flow.
These cavils are too bad, too, because I think Mahler fans would like the 1st, which is essentially a much abbreviated (only 36 minutes) Mahler symphony. If you're still intrigued, the playing and sound are fine."
Wellesz, symphonies 1 and 8
Martin Pitchon | La Prairie, Quebec Canada | 04/25/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Wonderful! If you like "difficult" music like Schönberg or Berg you'll be satisfied. Beautiful music, deep sound. Good and effective orchestra.Martin - Canada"