Weigl: Symphony No. 5 (Apocalyptic); Phantastisches Intermezzo

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COMPOSERS: Weigl
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 (Apocalyptic); Phantastisches Intermezzo
PERFORMER: Berlin RSO/Thomas Sanderling
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1077
Karl Weigl’s vision of the Apocalypse opens with an extraordinary mid-20th-century representation of chaos. Members of the orchestra enter the stage and begin tuning up, their hubbub ultimately broken by a solemn incantatory melody on the lower brass instruments. It’s an almost biblical gesture suggesting the Voice of God railing against man’s inhumanity to man. But this call to order fails to induce a semblance of stability. The first movement maintains a restless searching mood that is only intensified in the ensuing ‘Dance around the Golden Calf’ – a grotesque Mahlerian scherzo with snarling textures and heavy rhythms. After a gloriously extended Brucknerian Adagio which offers a reflection of a world that no longer exists, the finale, subtitled ‘The Four Horsemen’, resumes the struggle in a grim march that finds some kind of resolution in the closing bars.

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Written at the height of the Second World War by a staunchly conservative Austrian who emigrated to the United States after the Anschluss, this symphony is a powerful late-Romantic work that despite its subject matter avoids sensationalism and reveals its undoubted strengths after repeated listening. At the same time, it must be admitted that Weigl’s thematic material is perhaps not as distinctively memorable as that of some of his immediate contemporaries such as Schreker or Zemlinsky, a point that is re-emphasised by the earlier Phantastisches Intermezzo – a brilliantly scored orchestral showpiece that for all its virtuosity leaves a feeling of emptiness. Still, Weigl is clearly a composer of some interest and the commitment of the performances, not to mention the outstanding engineering, deserves the highest commendation. Erik Levi