Gürzenich Orchester Köln / Christopher Ward
Symphony (no.1) in E major (1878-80)
Symphony for Strings (1874-5)
Symphonic movement in E major (1878)
Capriccio C5414 [77’02”]
Producers Thomas Bössl, Johannes Kernmayer
Engineer Sebastian Nattkemper
Recorded 27, 28 & 31 January 2020 at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Capriccio releases its second volume devoted to orchestral music by the Viennese composer Hans Rott (1858-84), including a further recorded outing for the Symphony that was destined to remain his only fully realized mature work and on which his posthumous reputation rests.
What’s the music like?
Much is well known about the circumstances of Rott’s only completed symphony – namely its failure to secure a performance in his lifetime, being lauded by his younger contemporary Mahler (who alluded to it in at least four of his own symphonies) and its premiere 105 years after his death. That other composers in and around Vienna studied the score – elements are audible in Bruckner’s Seventh of 1883, even Franz Schmidt’s First of 1899 – is testament to its formal and expressive acuity in attempting to define a symphonic concept for the future.
Rott had produced a preliminary version of the opening movement which, recorded here for the first time, features the same themes in a relatively stolid entity that became more fluid in revision. The trumpet melody proves totemic for the whole work, as does Rott’s pervasive use of triangle as an ambient rather than merely textural device. Its preludial nature is reinforced by the emotional raptness of the adagio, twice building to intense climaxes that are eloquently rendered here, while leaving no doubt as to the composer’s harmonic and polyphonic mastery.
The highlight, though, is surely the scherzo – its elaborate design exuding rhythmic flair and a contrapuntal dexterity to the fore in this performance, with a frisson of excitement when the music threatens to career out of control in the closing pages. The finale’s ambition might not quite be equalled by its execution, but it does not prevent this heady amalgam of ruminative introduction that leads to a majestic prelude and fugue, then on to a fervent peroration, from aspiring to a transcendence it very nearly grasps. What might Rott have achieved forthwith?
By contrast, the Symphony for Strings is very much the product of a gifted student happy to emulate the string serenades of now little-heard minor masters such as Volkmann and Fuchs. That said, its trenchant opening Allegro then elegant slow movement are ably conceived in their writing for solo and ensemble strings, and if what follows equivocates between scherzo and finale (a fourth movement being summarily abandoned), it rounds off in lively fashion a piece that gives notice of Rott’s proficiency if little indication of a trailblazer in the making.
Does it all work?
Yes, inasmuch the Symphony requires a considerable level of intervention by the conductor to make it cohere as an integral entity. This it duly receives from Christopher Ward – cannily underlining thematic continuity across the whole, so that Rott is vindicated in what can seem reckless attempts to secure cohesion in the face of some disjunctive episodes. The Symphony for Strings presents few problems, with Ward bringing out various textural and phrasal points of interest. In both pieces, the Cologne Gürzenich musicians play to their collective strengths.
Is it recommended?
Indeed, those new to the Symphony should make it their choice of eight recordings. Vivid if rather airless sound, and detailed notes by Christian Heindl. Until more emerges of a putative ‘Second Symphony’, these discs would seem to be the last word on Rott’s orchestral output.
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