On Record: Bamberger Symphoniker / Jakub Hrúša – Hans Rott: Symphony no.1 (Deutsche Grammophon)

Rott Symphony [no.1] in E major (1878-80)
Mahler Andante allegretto in C major ‘Blumine’ (1884)
Bruckner Symphonic Prelude in C minor WAB297 (1876)

Bamberger Symphoniker / Jakub Hrúša

DG 486 2932 [70’11”]

Producers Sebastian Braun (Rott, Bruckner), Johannes Gleim (Mahler)
Engineers Markus Spatz (Rott), Christian Jaeger (Mahler), Thorsten Kuhn (Bruckner)

Recorded September and October 2021 (Rott), December 2021 (Mahler), March 2022 (Bruckner) at Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Konzerthalle, Bamberg

reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Jakub Hrúša makes its debut on Deutsche Grammophon with a new account of the Symphony by Hans Rott (1858-84), whose belated premiere some 33 years ago prompted a reassessment (still ongoing) as to the evolution of this genre during those final decades of the 19th century.

What’s the music like?

Much time and space has been expended on the indebtedness (or otherwise) of Mahler to this work – elements from which can be found in at least five the younger composer’s symphonies – yet equally fascinating is the audible influence it had upon those who came before and after; hence the first movement from Bruckner’s Seventh and the second movement from Schmidt’s First – both of which are similarly grounded in E major). Without seeking to present it as an unalloyed masterpiece, Hrúša makes a persuasive case for a piece that Rott would doubtless have overhauled had his mental state not deteriorated soon after its completion. He finds the right balance between grandeur and introspection in the preludial Alle breve, as between that raptness which briefly though pointedly erupts into anguish in the Sehr langsam that follows.

The Scherzo is the most convincingly realized movement and Hrúša has the measure of its animated main theme with undertones of polka, broadening into the ländler-derived suavity of its trio before regaining its earlier vigour vis an ostinato-like impetus barely held in check – the accelerando not necessary in this instance. Nor does he disappoint in the finale. Much the longest movement, this is easily criticized for diffuseness but, as Hrúša makes plain, the formal ground-plan – prelude-chorale-fantasia-fugue-stretto-postlude – (such as the organist Rott likely extemporized before committing to paper) is readily perceivable and is invested with cumulative momentum sustained to the beatific concluding bars. That the composer so nearly brought off this ambitious conception is surely more significant than any shortcoming.

Couplings have been judiciously chosen to open-out the context of the main work. Included in early hearings of his First Symphony, Blumine is a remnant from Mahler’s early orchestral projects lost to history and Hrúša brings out those expressive ambiguities as offset the lilting trumpet melody. Once attributed to Mahler, Symphonic Prelude is now believed an exercise from Bruckner’s composition class and Hrúša, adhering to the original orchestration rather than that by Albrecht Gürsching, duly makes the most of its ominous and plaintive musings.

Does it all work?

It does. In his accompanying booklet observation, Hrúša reflects on the musical and historical relevance of Rott’s Symphony and there can be little doubt that, among the dozen or so other recordings of this piece, this is the most convincing in terms of all-round cohesion as also the excellence of the playing by the Bamberg Symphony (whose chief conductor Hrúša has been since 2018). A little too forwardly balanced in tuttis, sound otherwise reflects the excellence of the orchestra’s home-venue – Rott’s extensive use of triangle kept within sensible bounds.

Is it recommended?

It is. Those coming to the main work for the first time should certainly makes its latest release their first port-of-call, and it would be worthwhile DG continuing this association with Hrúša and the Bamberg in other mid-European music from the late Romantic and early Modern era.

Listen

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You can listen to clips and get purchase options from the Deutsche Grammophon website

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