Classical CD Reviews

VOLKMAR ANDREAE: Symphony in C Major; Notturno and Scherzo; Music for Orch.; Kleine Suite – Bournemouth Sym. Orch./ Marc Andreae – Guild

Late-Romantic music from a noted twentieth-century conductor. Its lightness of touch will surprise.

Published on October 22, 2012

VOLKMAR ANDREAE: Symphony in C Major; Notturno and Scherzo; Music for Orch.; Kleine Suite – Bournemouth Sym. Orch./ Marc Andreae – Guild

VOLKMAR ANDREAE: Symphony in C Major, Op. 31; Notturno and Scherzo, Op. 30; Music for Orchestra, Op. 35; Kleine Suite, Op. 27 – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Marc Andreae – Guild GMCD 7377 [Distr. by Albany], 67:18 ****:

Like those of other composing conductors from the early twentieth century—Weingartner, Furtwangler—Volkmar Andreae’s original works have fallen off the radar of most performers and listeners. This is a matter that Swiss label Guild is in the process of remedying, first with a series of well-received recordings of Andreae’s chamber works, and now with a foray into his orchestral music. Given the importance of Volkmar Andreae as conductor and the popularity of a number of his works with his colleagues (his Kleine Suite was performed in short order after its composition in Leipzig, Dresden, London, New York, and Detroit by the likes of Nikisch, Reiner, and Walter), it’s surprising to note that these are world-premiere recordings.

Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962) studied at the Cologne Conservatory, writing his first important works the year of his graduation in 1899. He also lived and worked briefly in Vienna and Munich before returning to his native Switzerland, where he was appointed director of the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, a post he held from 1906-1949. As a conductor, Andreae introduced Mahler to Switzerland and Bruckner to Italy. In fact, he became a leading proponent of Bruckner in the early decades of the twentieth century, when the Austrian composer was little programmed. Andreae’s complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies from 1953 with the Vienna Symphony is still available on disc.

The composer’s ties with Vienna and the Munich of Richard Strauss seem evident in his orchestral works, although these influences are filtered through an artistic consciousness that was attuned to the larger musical world, one that demonstrates an individual response to musical influences. The Swiss composer’s only symphony seems a reaction to the Great War, which ended a year before the work’s premiere. In form, it’s unusual, beginning with a brief Allegro moderato introduction that is nearly monothematic, its theme recurring in the finale in cyclic fashion. The second movement is an extended funeral march that grows in intensity as it progresses; the march theme returns to haunt the finale as well, though the finale is essentially triumphant in character. The funereal second movement is followed attaca, by a light-hearted and lightly scored scherzo that would be very attractive in another setting. Following such a heavy-duty movement as the second, it seems somewhat incongruous to me. The trio of the scherzo is a folksy, Ländler-like bit that recalls Mahler’s use of this dance form, but without the sardonic edge Mahler sometimes brought to it. Despite the recurrence of sterner music from the first and second movements, the jubilation of the finale seems a little too easily won.

But the symphony is not without interest. Unlike many World War I–era symphonies I can think of, such as Franz Schmidt’s Second, Albert Roussel’s Second, or Georges Enescu’s Second, it’s less grandiose, less bloated, as if Andreae anticipated that a new orchestral esthetic was about to take hold in Europe after the collapse of Empire. The symphony’s orchestration is comparatively light and its musical statements far more forthright and economical. It may lack the depth of expression of other symphonies from the same time period, but it is refreshing in its uncomplicated approach to symphonic argument.

The same lightness of touch informs Andreae’s Notturno and Scherzo of 1918. The Notturno has an air of mystery, maybe even the haunted, about it. I don’t mean it as a dig to say that this, like other pieces on the program, sounds a bit like movie music, because when the work was written, films and film music were still in their virtual infancy. The influence was the other way round, after all—from the late-Romantic sound world of composers such as Andreae (and Zemlinsky and, yes, Schoenberg) to the film music turned out in the ‘30s and ‘40s by Erich Korngold and Max Steiner. This Scherzo is more athletic than the Symphony’s scherzo, with raucous brass entries, though the trio is gently balletic. Nice music, but I prefer the Music for Orchestra of 1929, with its harder edge, a certain driven quality that matches the more cynical mood of the ‘20s.

Small wonder Kleine Suite of 1917 was Andreae’s most popular orchestral piece, given its bright sounds, bouncy rhythms, and effective tone painting. It was inspired by carnival time in Venice, and its four movements bear titles such as “Jovial Activity at the Carnival.” The last movement, “Shrove Tuesday Carnival,” is properly joyous but has a somber middle section that surprises, like a brief glimpse of the coming Passiontide.

Volkmar Andreae’s music is very capably and sympathetically led by the composer’s grandson, Marc Andreae, one-time director of the Radio-Television della Svizzera Italiana. The Bournemouth Symphony, which has really come up in the world in recent years under conductors such as Andrew Litton, Yakov Kreizberg, and Marin Alsop, makes all the right moves for conductor Andreae and is captured in sonics that are warm and atmospheric, with a fine sense of depth. This recording will surprise and, I think, delight just about every listener.

—Lee Passarella




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