Symphony No.1 in E
Werner Andreas Albert
Recorded 11-15 June 2004 in the Philharmonie, Ludwigshafen
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2006
CD No: CPO 777 111-2
Duration: 62 minutes
When the compact disc came along it also brought a fondness to discover hour-long symphonies that posterity had decreed unfavourably – sometimes with good reason! Hermann Bischoff (1868-1936), a native of Duisberg, was not the son his steel-magnate father wanted; young Hermann was drawn to music, which his father seemingly had little knowledge of let alone an interest in; Bischoff senior is described as a “self-made man with the thick skull”. Nevertheless Hermann flourished and passed his exams and got to Leipzig to further his musical studies and also visited Munich, where he possibly met Richard Strauss; certainly the two later corresponded.
Eckhardt van den Hoogen writes a lengthy booklet note for this issue – all you ever wanted to know about Hermann Bischoff’s life and times. Suffice it to say that Bischoff’s Symphony in E was first heard in Essen on 24 May 1906; just three days later, in the same location, Mahler conducted his Sixth Symphony for the first time. Bischoff’s Symphony – while forgotten now – did, it seems, notch up some further performances, not least in 1908 when Richard Strauss himself led a Vienna Philharmonic performance.
And it’s clear that Strauss is Bischoff’s model. Yet it’s to the later, autumnal Strauss that Bischoff points, and, even nearer in time, also to “Der Rosenkavalier”. There’s great skill in Bischoff’s music – often lyrical and dextrous – and not least in his busy but lucid orchestrations. The first movement of this (here) 62-minute work could be described as ‘elegantly manic’, added to which some ideas seem flippant, even ribald. Then comes a glowingly lyrical adagio, with something of a crunching climax, which seems somewhat at odds with this movement, the work as a whole and a composer described as “sensitive” and by himself as “too cowardly to be a proper composer”. More in keeping is the waltz-like and elfin scherzo, deftly orchestrated and not without humour.
The finale is more problematical in that it is almost ‘twinned’ to Richard Strauss and tries to be a transcendental apotheosis without being distinctive enough to be one; as in the previous two movements – the 20-minute first one is well sustained – there is a tendency to note-spin and pad-out the pre-ordained structure (form-filling) and this final movement is (or certainly seems) the least interesting and focussed. It may be that Werner Andreas Albert’s one miscalculation is to worry too much about the ‘moderato’ marking rather than the ‘allegro’ direction that precedes it; otherwise he ensures that tempos are not distended, and the opening ‘Sehr schnell’ marking is exactly that.
Notwithstanding a good performance well recorded (a few duff edits along the way), it is difficult to know how to call this work – if ‘life is too short’, then maybe best to skip it; if, on the other hand, musical curiosity is a defining principle, then give it a go, for there are certainly some intriguing aspects along the way.