Braunfels: Phantastiche Erscheinungen Op. 25; Serenade Op. 20

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COMPOSERS: Braunfels
LABELS: CPO
ALBUM TITLE: Braunfels
WORKS: Phantastiche Erscheinungen Op. 25; Serenade Op. 20
PERFORMER: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 999 8822 2
The German composer Walter Braunfels is probably mostly remembered these days as composer of the evocative 1920 opera Die Vögel which was one of the highlights of Decca’s ‘Entartete Musik’ series. His orchestral music, on the other hand, has received precious little attention, so this fine new recording of two of his most characteristic works is welcome.

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Mephisto’s ‘Song of the Flea’ from Berlioz’s Le damnation de Faust forms the inspiration for Braunfels’s Phantastische Erscheinung (Fantastic Appearances). Lasting 50 minutes, it’s a work Wilhelm Furtwängler promoted assiduously until the rise of the Nazis. Its distinctive melodic contours are subjected to a varied sequence of transformations through 12 highly distinctively characterised movements which range from the grotesque and demonic to the intensely Romantic, and culminate in a somewhat disturbing allusion to the First World War – the period in which the work was written. Despite its hybrid conception, which stands somewhere in between Strauss’s Don Quixote and Reger’s Mozart Variations both in terms of its musical language and structure, this is performed with considerable commitment and sensitivity, as is the more modest Serenade. Erik Levi