WORKS: Symphony in E; Pastorales Vorspiel
PERFORMER: Vienna RSO/Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 999 854-2
Gustav Mahler and Hans Rott were fellow students at the Vienna Conservatory in the 1870s. One became the greatest symphonist of his day, the other died in an asylum aged only 26. Connecting them is a remarkable symphony, undeniably the product of the forgotten composer, but full of pre-echoes of Mahler’s own symphonic motifs and practices. While Rott could conceivably have been influenced by his friend’s earliest works, the sense that Mahler later purloined some of his best-known ideas from this work is unmistakable. It has its laboured moments and the orchestration lurches between muddiness and transparency, but its musical ideas and symphonic integrity are strong enough to make it more than a mere curiosity.
Fortunately, the score did not suffer the fate of Rott’s other manuscripts – as the asylum’s toilet paper – and resurfaced in Vienna in the Eighties. A first recording immediately followed the world premiere in 1989, by the student Cincinnati Philharmonia under Gerhard Samuel. That Hyperion performance has served well for over a decade, but this new Viennese recording has more presence and a fuller, more secure string sound. Samuel defies authenticity and cuts much of Rott’s obsessive triangle part. I wish Dennis Russell Davies had taken the same step (it’s enough to drive anyone to distraction), yet he takes more risks with the music’s ebb and flow to arrive ultimately at a more involving reading. The Pastoral Prelude is of less musical interest and is dogged by intrusive coughing, but if you haven’t already heard Rott’s fascinating Symphony, now is the time. Matthew Rye