SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

WEINGARTNER: Symphony No. 7 – Maya Boog, sop./Franziska Gottwald, alto/ Rolf Romei, tenor/ Christopher Bolduc, baritone/ Babette Mondry, organ/ Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno/ Basel Sym. Orch./ Marko Letonja – CPO

No Mahler, but no slouch either, moments of Weingartner give great pleasure. It’s the inconsistency that mars a lot of his music.

Published on May 2, 2013

FELIX WEINGARTNER: Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 88 – Maya Boog, sop./Franziska Gottwald, alto/ Rolf Romei, tenor/ Christopher Bolduc, baritone/ Babette Mondry, organ/ Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno/ Basel Sym. Orch./ Marko Letonja – CPO multichannel SACD 777 102, 62:02 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/26/13) ****:

Felix Weingartner was of course one of the greatest conductors of the last century. His many recordings which have come down to us, notably those of Brahms, still ring true in the hearts of record connoisseurs. Less known is the fact that the conductor himself considered his work as a composer equally valuable, and for a while, as is often the case, so did the public as well. Weingartner in his complete oeuvre is actually more prolific than Mahler, who served as a fairly intense rival for a number of years, though Mahler had a far shorter lifespan. But comparing the work of Weingartner to Mahler is indeed unfair, as the former cannot compete, despite the once-great acclamation he received. Yet Weingartner was forced to compose in a world that included Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Franz Schreker and Alexander von Zemlinsky, and his composing methods reflected those influences even though his sometimes Schubertian sense of line set him apart.

The Seventh and last symphony, finished in 1942, achieved widespread notoriety even though its lifespan was to be a short one. The forces of the piece are fairly standard, certainly nothing like the gargantuan Third Symphony of 30 years earlier, also a far lesser work. Here we have a large “Hymn to Love” (Friedrich Hölderlin) that starts rather insecurely in the first movement, a little disorganized and uncertain of direction. The alto and baritone second movement, “Two Wanderers”, expresses Weingartner’s ability to set voices in a gracious manner, but still lacks any sort of melodic inspiration that charges the imagination and fires the memory. However things pick up greatly in the passionate third movement, while the full-fledged solo and choral creativity of the last movement—a full 30 minutes—contains many moments of splendor and excitement, a summation of sorts of the composer’s symphonic thoughts at the end of a long career.

This performance is committed and superbly recorded, with gorgeous surround sound effects. Weingartner was no Mahler, but much of his music deserves a renewed attention, and this recording should serve well as a document for many years.

—Steven Ritter




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