WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Vienna RSO/Gottfried Rabl
CATALOGUE NO: 999 808-2
Egon Wellesz composed the first of his nine symphonies at the venerable age of 60 – some years after he had settled in Oxford as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria. Such a degree of commitment to a genre that he had studiously avoided earlier in his life surely reflects the growing sense of loss Wellesz experienced at being cut off from his homeland.
Certainly nostalgia plays an important role in the musical narrative of the Fourth Symphony, tellingly subtitled ‘Symphonia austriaca’. In particular, Wellesz pays homage to Bruckner in the Symphony’s powerfully drawn unison passages and insistent string figurations, though these allusions are always tempered by the composer’s distinctive harmonic language which effects a convincing rapprochement between dissonance and conventional tonality. By contrast, the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies are much tougher Schoenbergian scores following a three-movement sequence of funeral march, scherzo and a valedictory adagio and exhibiting an increasing refinement of orchestration.
It seems inexplicable that the British musical establishment largely ignored such fine music during the composer’s lifetime. However, the appearance of this first instalment of a complete symphony cycle should begin to make amends for earlier neglect, especially since the playing of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Gottfried Rabl is so committed and incisive. Erik Levi