Egk: Furchtlosigkeit und Wohlwollen

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COMPOSERS: Egk
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Furchtlosigkeit und Wohlwollen
PERFORMER: Fritz Wunderlich (tenor); Bavarian RSO & Chorus/István Kertész
CATALOGUE NO: C 510 011 B ADD mono
The first recording of Werner Egk’s early and rather cumbersomely titled oratorio Furchtlosigkeit und Wohlwollen (Fearlessness and Goodwill) is something of a revelation. Composed in 1931 and premiered by conductor Hermann Scherchen at a festival of new music in Munich, it reflects a somewhat different compositional outlook from that of his later works of the Thirties, many of which received strong approval from the Nazi regime.

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Despite the unmistakable musical influences of Egk’s teacher Carl Orff and that of Stravinsky, the generic starting point for the oratorio is surely the Brechtian Lehrstück as developed by Weill and Eisler. In recounting the fable of the pure fool Gamani who finds himself condemned to death on trumped-up charges of robbery and murder, but overcomes the threat of execution by showing ‘fearlessness and goodwill’ towards his enemies and slanderers, Egk presents an unequivocally pacifist and non-violent message – a brave gesture at a particularly troubled moment in German history. More importantly, this extended work, full of dramatic incident in contrasting lyrical vocal writing with rhythmically dynamic choruses, holds the attention throughout. No doubt its cause is much helped by the unforgettable singing of Fritz Wunderlich, and the highly-charged choral and orchestral contributions remind us that the young István Kertész was already a conductor of great stature in 1960. The Bavarian Radio recording sounds remarkably good, even though it is only in mono. Erik Levi