WORKS: Symphonia tragica; Funeral March in E minor
PERFORMER: Hanover NDR Radio PO/Jörg-Peter Weigle
CATALOGUE NO: 999 581-2
Enthusiastically championed by Hans von Bülow and Arthur Nikisch, the Symphonia tragica by Felix Draeseke (1835-1913) once ranked alongside Brahms’s Fourth and Bruckner’s Eighth as among the most significant Austro-German symphonic works of the late 19th century. Yet a combination of circumstances conspired to consign the work and its composer to almost total neglect for nearly 75 years. No doubt, Draeseke’s posthumous reputation was hardly helped by his increasingly reactionary position in later life. More damagingly, however, this ardent devotee of the New German School of Wagner and Liszt was eagerly appropriated as a Nazi icon during the Third Reich.
While it would certainly be overstating the case to place Draeseke’s composition in the same bracket as the symphonies of Brahms or Bruckner, there’s little doubt that the Symphonia tragica is an impressive achievement. If the melodic ideas are not immediately distinctive and the musical style, with its allusions to Schumann, Wagner and Berlioz, seems somewhat derivative in places, the powerful funereal slow movement and the turbulent extended finale with its noble and restrained conclusion deserve admiration. Enjoying the benefits of a superb recording and exemplary documentation, this outstandingly performed release makes out the best possible case for an urgent reappraisal of other works by Draeseke. Erik Levi