Draeseke: Symphonia tragica; Gudrun Overture; Symphonic Prelude to Penthesilea

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Symphonia tragica; Gudrun Overture; Symphonic Prelude to Penthesilea
PERFORMER: Wuppertal SO/George Hanson
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 335 1041-2
Originally an adherent of the ‘New German School’ of Liszt and Wagner, Felix Draeseke (1835-1913) first essayed opera and symphonic poems: the noisy but spirited Gudrun overture, with its roots in Tannhäuser and Berlioz, proclaims his affiliations. Later he desired to infuse – or tame – the Romantic innovations of his heroes within more Classical designs. The Symphonia tragica, third of his four symphonies, appeared in 1886, the year after Brahms’s Fourth, and was probably Draeseke’s most famous work in his lifetime. Its posthumous reputation was slender – the only recording in the 20th century was a badly cut Urania LP in the early Fifties. Here, however, it receives its second CD version in just over a year: CPO and Dabringhaus und Grimm both seem to be engaged on Draeseke cycles.


He was a capable enough composer, but there’s a diffuseness to his ideas that cheats the Symphonia tragica of greatness. However, this is an enjoyable performance, better characterised and more purposefully shaped than the CPO alternative. The intriguing mixture of styles is nowhere more striking than in the finale: a gloomy Wagnerian introduction gives way to a tarantella (the model is almost certainly Berlioz’s Carnaval romain) which grows steadily darker, with a vigorous Beethovenian fugal development. Perhaps Draeseke’s openness to Berlioz is the most individual thing about him – it’s patent, too, in the Symphonic Prelude after Kleist’s Penthesilea (premiered in 1890 under the baton of Richard Strauss, no less) which comes closer to true tragedy, or at least pathos, than the Symphony. Calum MacDonald