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

On record – Eckart Runge plays Kapustin & Schnittke (Capriccio)

Eckart Runge (cello), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Frank Strobel

Cello Concerto no.1 Op.85 (1997)
Cello Concerto no.1 (1985/6)

Capriccio C5362 [69’52”]

Producer / Engineer  Wolfram Nehls Henri Thaon

Recorded 9-10 March 2018 (Kapustin), 30 September – 2 October 2019 at RBB Haus des Rundfunk, Berlin

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Eckart Runge continues his distinctive – not to say idiosyncratic – recorded odyssey with this pertinent coupling of Russian cello concertos, written a decade apart by composers who were near contemporaries while pursuing radically different paths in terms of career and aesthetic.

What’s the music like?

His First Cello Concerto sees Nikolai Kapustin intent on opening-out his jazz-inflected idiom as centred on the piano over the previous two decades. With its stealthy emergence towards a ‘big band’ summons, the initial Allegro forges a flexible accommodation between soloist and orchestra – the former given its head in brief yet decisive passages, with the two engaging in animated and essentially good-natured banter elsewhere. Kapustin’s take on jazz is beholden to no time or place, but the central Largo evokes that of America’s immediate post-war era in its rhythmic clarity that belies a subdued and often taciturn lyrism; at length accelerating into the final Allegro which, with its incisive interplay and tensile bravura, finds this composer at his most characteristic. How surprising that, given the worldwide interest in Kapustin during his final quarter-century, this piece should have gone unheard until just two years before his death. Runge is audibly intent on making up for that neglect, bringing an impetus and elan to the music as should go some way towards establishing its presence in the modern repertoire.

At almost twice its length, Alfred Schnittke’s First Cello Concerto is evidently the weightier proposition as is proven with this last in a sequence of imposing concertante works – having been preceded by those for violin (No. 4), viola and choir. The initial Moderato unfolds as a soliloquy alternately heightened and threatened by orchestra, its essential pathos continually reasserting itself against the forces of negation. From the ashes of this ultimate confrontation, a Largo emerges fitfully before it takes on an eloquence by no means devoid of anxiety; this latter quality to the fore in an ensuing Allegro as impulsive as it is concentrated. The first of several debilitating strokes suffered soon after starting work on this piece radically altered its concept – the final Largo building in a crescendo of intensity to the radiant apotheosis, before winding down to a serenity whose closure is more real for having been so hard-won. A tough work to make cohere over its lengthy spans of mainly slow music, yet Runge undoubtedly has its measure through his sustaining of these emotional peaks and troughs with such conviction.

Does it all work?

Yes, albeit in terms of those stylistic goals the composers set themselves. Runge currently has no competition for the Kapustin, where his fusion of incisiveness and suavity will be a tough act to follow. His take on the Schnittke is more durable than most of its predecessors, though dedicate Natalia Gutman finds greater intensity in her first recording (Regis/Alto), while the late Alexander Ivashkin teases greater subtlety from more inward passages (Chandos). Frank Strobel with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra offer alert and idiomatic support in both instances.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least in its underlining the diversity of music as came out of Russia during those ‘transitional’ years either side of the USSR’s demise. Informative notes by Christian Heindl and Runge, who will hopefully record the second concertos of both composers for this label.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, Eckart Runge can be found here and Frank Strobel here

On record – Jürgen Bruns conducts Hanns Eisler’s Leipzig Symphony (Capriccio)

Leipziger Sinfonie (1959-62: compl. 1998 Medek)*
Trauerstücke aus Filmpartituren (1961/2: arr. 2015 Bruns/Fasshauer)*
Nuit et brouillard (1955: original film score)**

*MDR Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, **Kammersymphonie Berlin / Jürgen Bruns

Capriccio C5368 [63’22”]

Producers *Stefan Antonin, **Gideon Boss
Engineers *Martin Staffe and Robert Baldowski, **Stefan Haberfeld and Regine Kraus

Recorded **9 November 2015 at Konzerthaus, Berlin; *15-16 August 2018 at MDR Studios, Leipzig

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

An important disc of orchestral works from Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), each a first recording and confirming the continued distinctiveness of his music over his final years in (then) East Berlin, when more ambitious plans were constantly thwarted by the East German authorities.

What’s the music like?

Eisler essayed symphonic pieces across his output, notably the Deutsche Sinfonie that is his largest concert work.

The Leipzig Symphony was commissioned by that city’s Gewandhaus orchestra but, at the time of Eisler’s death, consisted of a folio of sketches and memos given definition by Tilo Medek (1940-2006) to commemorate the composer’s centenary. Drawing mainly on film scores (as Eisler had done in his six orchestral suites), these four movements make for a quirky yet compelling entity: unfolding from the pungent contrasts of the initial Prelude and Idyll, via a restive slow movement then a sardonic scherzo both entitled Con moto, to a closing March without Words whose bracing impetus is typical of Eisler at all stages of his career. Some aspects – notably a percussive onslaught at the end of the second movement – are likely interventions by Medek (briefly a pupil of Eisler), though overall the expressive content and formal follow-through have an authentic quality such as makes this piece a necessary addition to the Eisler catalogue and one that warrants repeated exposure.

The other two works are both film scores. In the instance of Funeral Pieces of Motion Picture Scores, its nine miniatures were extracted by Jürgen Bruns and Tobias Fasshauer from music for two films about the Holocaust. The moods may be consistently subdued, but the motivic repetition Eisler threaded ingeniously through these scores has enabled a cohesive sequence whose end returns deftly or without contrivance to its beginning. Given that both films were forgotten soon after being made, this arrangement constitutes a worthwhile act of restitution.

Night and Fog presents a rather different proposition. This half-hour piece is in fact the entire score to a documentary about Auschwitz shot (partly on location) by Alain Renais and whose acclaim facilitated his subsequent film career. This is now available on DVD and mandatory viewing, yet Eisler’s contribution is entirely viable on its own terms. Its 13 numbers (lasting between 30 seconds and five minutes) again opt for understatement.

Peter Deeg’s insightful booklet note indicates how the studio musicians seemed nonplussed by Eisler’s insistence on emotional restraint, but the resulting music is its own justification; whether in more ominous episodes (not least one entitled Herr Himmler), or the final movement that encapsulates its subject in a threnody of Mahlerian anguish. Never was Eisler’s ‘commitment’ more explicit.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. It helps that the playing of both MDR Symphony and Berlin Chamber Symphony orchestras feels unerringly attuned to the angularity yet also plangency of Eisler’s expressive ambit, ably guided by the versatile Jürgen Bruns so all three pieces leave a lasting impression.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. To get the measure of Eisler, the collection of (mainly) Berlin Classics recordings – now available on Brilliant Classics – is an essential purchase, but the present disc is a vital supplement and a further significant release from the always enterprising Capriccio label.



For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Capriccio website

On record: Emilie Mayer: Symphony no.4, Piano Concerto, String Quartet etc

**Ewa Kupiec, ****Yang Tai (pianos) ***Klenke Quartett; */**Neubrandenburger Philharmonie / *Stefan Malzew, **Sebastian Tewinkel

Symphony no.4 in B minor (1851)*
Piano Concerto in B flat major (1850) **
String Quartet no.9 in G minor***
Piano Sonata in D minor (c1860-70)****
Tonwellen-Valse in C****
Marcia in A****

Capriccio C5339 [129’39”]

Recorded December 2017

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio reissues its two discs devoted to the music of Emilie Mayer (1812-1883), a notable figure in German mid-romanticism who came through early upheavals to establish herself as a composer whose considerable output was heard throughout Western and Central Europe.

What’s the music like?

Very much of its time, which is not to suggest intrinsic lack of quality or stylistic anonymity. This is immediately evident from Symphony no.4, fourth of her eight symphonies, premiered in Berlin on 16th March 1851, whose tempestuous opening Allegro is the more impressive for its subtlety of sonata design, then an Adagio which likewise brings to mind Berwald (could Mayer have been at the disastrous Stockholm premiere of his Symphonie serieuse in 1843?); followed by an alternately incisive and lilting scherzo, then a finale whose brevity round off the work in unequivocal fashion.

The Piano Concerto feels relatively uneventful in its expressive range, though the deft interplay of soloist and orchestra is never less than pleasurable – Ewa Kupiec rendering it with a dexterity and poise that bring to mind the concertos of Hummel or Field.

The ninth and last of Mayer’s string quartets is unquestionably the highlight on the other disc. Its seriousness of intent is confirmed by the dedication to her father, who took his own life in 1840, and made tangible with the sombre opening Allegro (anticipatory of Brahms‘s Op. 51 quartets) then a speculative and agitated scherzo. The Adagio brings a degree of consolation, before the finale delivers an unforgiving resolution akin to Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet.

Less well integrated formally, the Piano Sonata is most successful in the vaunting energy of its outer movements, whose considerable virtuosity points to Mayer’s own pianistic abilities – equally in the gracefully alluring Tonwellen Waltz and the engaging March that round off this programme. The Klenke Quartet and Yang Tai prove sympathetic advocates throughout.

Does it all work?

Very much so. Mayer is hardly the only female composer to have been wholly forgotten after her death, but she is assuredly among the finest – not least in her ability to fashion large-scale designs of a formal focus and a cumulative emotional impact in advance of most among her contemporaries. In the two orchestral pieces, the Neubrandenburg Philharmonic – under the respective direction of Stefan Malzew and Sebastian Tewinkel – leaves little to be desired, nor do warmly spacious sound and succinct if (for the most part) informative booklet notes.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Last year saw the spotlight falling on many female composers (and artistic figures in general) whose significance is essentially historical. Mayer is an undoubted exception, however, and it is to be hoped more of her music will soon be recorded and performed.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the Mayer release on the Capriccio website