Scharwenka: Symphony in C minor; Overture

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COMPOSERS: Scharwenka
LABELS: Sterling
WORKS: Symphony in C minor; Overture
PERFORMER: Gävle SO/Christopher Fifield
One day, everything written by everyone will be available in recorded form – meanwhile, how about a bit of Scharwenka to be getting along with? These are first recordings of his only orchestral works, and they’ll please devotees of the late 19th century. Scharwenka was 19 when he composed the Overture, and the shadows of Mendelssohn (especially the Scottish Symphony) and Brahms loom large. Even in the Symphony – a later work – the presence of Dvorák, Grieg, Schumann and Wagner (among others) is a distraction. Apart from that, it’s competent, but no blazing masterpiece – and Scharwenka often falls into the trap of going round in circles in stodgily scored sequences. In fact, the whole work seems to spend more time travelling hopefully than arriving at the real business. But Christopher Fifield clearly believes in the music, and expresses this in the booklet notes as well as the performances, which have urgency, even though they lack the last ounce of precision of ensemble, and the upper strings sometimes sound undernourished. This particularly affects the Andante religioso, where the scoring for divided strings needs a better upholstered texture, though the melody here has some direction, and for once the piece doesn’t outstay its welcome. Martin Cotton