Gurlitt: Goya Symphony; Four Dramatic Songs

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LABELS: Phoenix
WORKS: Goya Symphony; Four Dramatic Songs
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano); Berlin Radio SO/Antony Beaumont


The German composer Manfred Gurlitt (1890-1972) had the double misfortune of composing a Wozzeck at the same time as Berg and a Soldaten that was later eclipsed by Zimmermann’s version.

He further weakened his appeal to posterity by choosing distant Japan as his bolt-hole from Nazi oppression and by continuing to write in pre-war idioms well into the modernist era. As such, his music is still being rediscovered, as in the case of these two works receiving world premiere recordings.

Gurlitt’s Goya Symphony of 1939 uses the suffering of the Spanish painter in life and work as an allegory of existence in the Third Reich. The mood isn’t all as dark as one might expect, though: it begins with music that Nielsen might have written in his more quirky moments, but it does gradually descend into slightly distanced tragedy. The playing of the Berlin Radio SO here has vitality and warmth and the recording is particularly clear and immediate.

The Four Dramatic Songs (1952) sound rather like Berg without the serialism, and feature figures from dramas – Isolde, Gretchen and Ottegebe (Der arme Heinrich) – rather than convey theatrical narrative.


Christiane Oelze’s monochrome singing suggests lack of time to grow into the characters she’s portraying, but the accompaniments are vivid. Matthew Rye