On record – Christopher Ward conducts Rott: Orchestral Works Vol.1 (Capriccio)

Gürzenich Orchester Köln / Christopher Ward

Overture to Hamlet (1876, compl. Schmidt)
Suite in E major (1878)
Prelude to Julius Cäsar (1877)
Prelude in E major (1876)
Suite in B flat major (1877)
Pastoral Prelude in F major (1877-80)

Capriccio C5408 [51’44”]

Producers Wolfram Nehls, Johannes Kernmayer
Engineer Thomas Bössl

Recorded 23-25 January 2020 at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio issues the first in what is (presumably) a two-volume survey of orchestral music by Hans Rott (1858-84), gathering up the extant or realizable shorter pieces from his regrettably brief yet highly eventful composing career, in what are assured and idiomatic performances.

What’s the music like?

The one premiere recording is of the Hamlet Overture, its orchestration broken off after some 35 bars yet with the overall draft sufficiently advanced to enable this completion by Johannes Volker Schmidt. The manuscript’s designation Prelude suggests this as the introduction to an operatic or choral work, but the absence of more concrete information makes it uncertain how far this piece shadows events in Shakespeare’s drama. As a concert overture, it unfolds purposefully enough and much the same might be said of the Julius Cäsar Prelude, given its anxious pivoting between the majestic and the intimate; informed by a Wagnerian approach to harmony and sonority no doubt occasioned by Rott’s attending the first Bayreuth Festival.

Most of these other items were composition exercises while Rott was studying at the Vienna Conservatoire, with the concise Prelude in E evincing no mean emotional fervour. The brace of movements in each of the suites find the composer in more relaxed mood. Those of the E major feature a Prelude of eloquent restraint then a Finale whose rather greater variety of mood and dramatic culmination are altogether more prophetic. Those of the B flat feature a Scherzo whose capering motion and deft irony are rather more personable than a Finale that seems intent on building a fugal peroration, only to call time on its progress with an all too perfunctory closing cadence – as to suggest the composer was losing interest as he went on.

Last but emphatically not least, the Pastoral Prelude in F is by far the longest work and the clearest indicator of where Rott might have been headed during that fateful year of 1880. Its subtitle, A Prelude to Elsbeth, again suggests theatrical connotations that were most likely abandoned during the three years over which this piece took shape. The initial stages, with their avian evocations and horn calls, afford a distinctive take on late-Romantic archetypes, while the discursive yet never unfocussed progress towards a powerful apotheosis confirms its composer’s fugal proficiency. It may have had to wait 120 years for its first hearing but this, along with his Symphony, makes clear just what was lost with Rott’s untimely demise.

Does it all work?

Yes, though it needs to be stressed that nothing quite equals the vaunting if reckless ambition evident from the Symphony in E, the defining work (however unintentional) of Rott’s output. It would be fascinating to have heard Mahler’s attempts at orchestral music from this period, while Hugo Wolf’s early orchestral pieces exude rather greater individuality. What cannot be denied is the seriousness with which Rott applies himself, or the commitment with which the Gürzenich forces realize his intentions under the sympathetic guidance of Christopher Ward.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. These pieces have almost always appeared as fill-ups for Rott’s Symphony, making their collation here the more welcome. Excellent sound, decent annotations, and a release to be investigated in advance of the second instalment – already announced for early next year.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on Hans Rott, you can head to a dedicated website

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