Another vastly under-rated composer you should get to know
Martin Selbrede | The Woodlands, Texas | 04/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'll admit that I've been burned before by the glowing reviews that music critic David Hurwitz gives various albums, having learned that only one out of every five or so CDs that he lauds actually warrant effusive praise. I'm happy to report that Hurwitz was more than right on this release -- the two works on this CD are masterful, gorgeous, played with conviction, and composed with elan, passion, and cleverness.
Braunfels was active in the first half of the 20th century, operating in a tonal medium that I suppose could be called post-romantic, with original overtones winding through each work. The larger work on this program, written in 1917, is the Fantastic Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz, the theme being taken from "The Song of the Flea" in Berlioz's Le Damnation du Faust. While Hurwitz sees an affinity to Strauss's Don Quixote in Braunfel's set of orchestral variations, I hear more of a closer affinity with works like Respighi's Metamorphoseon or even Walton's Variations on a Theme by Hindemith. Braunfel's approach to percussion -- less is more -- takes some striking forms (e.g., the clever punctuation of the beginning of of a phrase with mezzopiano bass drum off beats -- highly imaginative!).
The Serenade of 1909, scored for smaller orchestra, does have some Straussian harmonic affectations, but the melodic invention is remarkably fresh despite the way the main theme hugs the major triad. Like the later variations, this work also bears repeated listening.
As usual, the CPO recording is pristine, with rich sonics that lack nothing in either body or clarity. Conductor Dennis Russell Davies strives to get maximum impact out of his forces, and it shows. The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra is no second-class outfit, this recording being witness.
Suffice it to say that this CD has provoked me to seek out "Die Vogel," an opera Braunfels composed after the two works that appear on this disk. I tend to be tight-fisted when it comes to buying expensive recordings, but these recordings indicate that the more expensive Braunfels opera will in no way be a gamble. Highly recommended. Get to know Braunfels -- you won't regret it."