Draeseke: Symphony No. 2; Serenade in D, Op. 49

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COMPOSERS: Draeseke
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Serenade in D, Op. 49
PERFORMER: NDR Radio PO Hannover/Jörg-Peter Weigle
CATALOGUE NO: 999 719-2
Felix Draeseke (1835-1913) started out as a partisan of the ‘New German School’ of Liszt and Wagner, but later decided to return to Classical principles (Liszt called him a lion who became a rabbit). Shunned by both the Wagnerian and Brahmsian factions in German music, and afflicted by deafness, he outlived them all to end up an acerbic reactionary who wrote a notorious attack on Strauss. Twenty years after his death the Nazis promoted his works, which certainly didn’t aid his reputation after 1945. Christoph Schlüren’s booklet notes for this CD constitute an important essay on Draeseke’s career (zeroing in to consider the Second Symphony’s second movement as ‘unique in symphonic literature’), and suggesting he was an unjustly sidelined major figure.

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Certainly Draeseke’s Classical designs harbour unorthodox developments; his thematic material is often strong, and he was a gifted contrapuntist. There’s much to admire and enjoy, but a certain diffuseness and occasional triteness keeps him, for me, in the second rather than first rank. Symphony No. 2, completed the same year that Brahms finished his First Symphony, seems to belong to a previous generation of Schumannesque Romanticism, though the aforementioned second movement, an inventive and atmospheric Allegretto marciale, is certainly striking in its presages of Mahler (which may be glances back to Schubert’s Great C major). Draeseke’s 1888 Serenade possesses considerable, almost Sullivanesque charm. Good performances and recording; this disc sheds further light on an interesting contemporary of Brahms and Bruckner. Calum MacDonald