Rustic Wedding Symphony, Op.26
Symphony in C minor
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Jesús López-Cobos [Goldmark]
Bergen Symphony Orchestra
Goldmark recorded in March 1980 in Royce Hall, Los Angeles; Grieg recorded in March 1981 in Grieghallen, Bergen
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: DECCA ELOQUENCE
Duration: 80 minutes
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) would rather we were not listening to his youthful attempt to write a symphony, which was completed before he was 21. Despite misgivings about the work, he didn’t destroy it, and, many years later, his widow duly passed it to the Bergen Public Library with ‘not to be played’ or the equivalent stamped on it. And there it languished until 1981 when this orchestra and conductor performed and recorded it. (Other recordings have followed.)
It may be no masterpiece, but Grieg’s sole symphony is worth the occasional airing; it’s rather Germanic in style and has some attractive ideas and is well orchestrated; indeed, the work shows the very real accomplishment that Grieg had attained as a student. If the expansive first movement tends to slavishly follow traditional symphonic writing, it does so smartly and curvaceously; and the ‘real’ Grieg is more pertinently met in the eloquent Adagio espressivo that follows. Ensuing this is a stamping dance described as an ‘Intermezzo’ and which has the flavour of Mendelssohn to it (a fine role-model), and the finale has a vitality that impresses. Grieg wanted to enshrine his native Norway in music; there is little of ‘home’ in the symphony’s music, if much that is likeable and skilled, and, of course, posterity has judged that Grieg went on to immortality through his music for Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”, the Piano Concerto and some of the for-piano Lyric Pieces. There need be no qualms in dusting off this ‘early’ symphony, especially when Karsten Andersen and the Bergen Philharmonic give such a persuasive account, one excellently recorded.
Rustic Wedding Symphony is less of a ‘byway’ but hardly a work that is over-exposed. A favourite of Sir Thomas Beecham, this five-movement picturesque ‘suite’ has also been recorded by Leonard Bernstein and André Previn. Karl Goldmark (1830-1915) was born in a town in Hungary (and could be described as Austro-Hungarian in terms of musical style); he showed a musical aptitude from an early age, not least for the violin.
An unconventional form – the first movement is a Theme and Variations, for example, describing the various guests at a wedding ceremony – takes us through the course of the work, one that includes a ‘Bridal Song’ and ‘Serenade’ and movements entitled ‘In the Garden’ and ‘Dance’. Colourful and charming, Goldmark writes a thoroughly good-natured work that cannot fail to engage and delight. It’s possible to imagine a more imaginative response than Jesús López-Cobos brings to his task here; but he is always sensitive and exacting, and the top-flight Los Angeles Philharmonic is characterful and virtuoso, and the recorded sound is lucid.