Wagner: Symphony in C Symphony in E; Overture to Rienzi, der Letzte der Trbunen; Kaisermarsch; Huldigungsmarsch

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COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Symphony in C Symphony in E; Overture to Rienzi, der Letzte der Trbunen; Kaisermarsch; Huldigungsmarsch
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5097

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If he had written nothing more, Wagner’s Symphony in C would still have prefigured his extraordinary genius – but not its direction. Themes, structure, atmosphere are so shaped by his Beethoven studies that you would expect him to grow into Brahms. There are also touches of Weber, even Mozart, but Wagner himself is absent. Except in hindsight, perhaps – a taste for dramatic gesture and expansive expression, and first-movement thematic development that might anticipate leitmotifs. It’s still a pleasure, though, fresh and vigorous; Neeme Järvi’s fairly brisk reading, beautifully played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, amply explains why Clara Schumann warned Robert he had a new rival.

The 1834 Symphony in E is less impressive. Significantly, Wagner abandoned it while pursuing Minna Planer, his alluring future wife. His Second Symphony survived only in sketches, and it was Wagner’s second wife, Cosima, who requested its posthumous completion some 50 years later. The Austrian conductor and composer Felix Mottl obliged.Indeed, there’s nothing of the real Wagnerian identity that we hear emerging in the early opera from the years just after, Rienzi, for all its Meyerbeerian rhetoric and almost Rossinian march.

Wagner’s later non-operatic work was frequently pot-boiling self-pastiche such as the noisily jubilant Huldigungsmarsch (Homage March, 1864) orchestrated by Joachim Raff. Rather better is the professionally patriotic Kaisermarsch, with its thundering motif of Luther’s hymn Ein feste Burg, again richly played by Järvi and the Scots. The least parts, therefore, of a superbly played and recorded SACD.

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Michael Scott Rohan