Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.50
Symphony No.2 in B flat, Op.70
Recorded in December 2003 & May 2004 in Grosser Sendesaal, Hannover
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: CPO 777 122-2
Duration: 77 minutes
An imposing slow introduction and a solemn tread introduces the first of the two symphonies on this disc.
The Austrian composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900), as did Brahms before him – the two were friends – chose the key of C minor for his First Symphony, which was completed early in December 1884. Unlike Brahms, although Herzogenberg similarly waited a while to write a symphony (albeit there are unpublished student examples), he did so in a short space of time. It’s an impressive work, leaning heavily to Schumann and with echoes of Mendelssohn but with a lively personality all its own.
From the gravitas apparent in the opening Adagio, the Allegro that it heralds is a relaxed, outgoing and expansive creation (nearly 19 minutes in this performance, the symphony as a whole playing for 42) that is always certain of its direction and quite compelling. The succeeding slow movement underlines the symphony’s pastoral credentials, the scherzo is more about deceptive rhythms than being the marked agitato – here one just might think of Dvořák – and the finale is chorale-based (Herzogenberg was a devotee of Bach).
This very likeable piece – written with a masterly flourish – was followed in a short space of time (if separated by 19 opus numbers) by Symphony No.2, which dates from 1888 and followed a period of ill-health for the composer. Not that there is much or any angst apparent over its four movements, again another melodic and sunny outpouring that is of skilful resource. The music of Berwald (1796-1868) seems not far away and there is, too, a sense of the outdoors (mountains, fields and ‘peasants merrymaking’ – shades of Goldmark’s 1877 Rustic Wedding Symphony) that is manifested in popular terms while being sophisticatedly expressed. This symphony is often beguiling.
The performances here are very sympathetic and very well prepared and captured by CPO in first-class sound, to which Bernd Wiechert’s detailed annotation is a boon. A very recommendable release to anyone interested in ‘traditional’ nineteenth-century symphonism.