Wellesz: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 8; Symphonic Epilogue

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WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 8; Symphonic Epilogue
PERFORMER: Vienna RSO/Gottfried Rab
CATALOGUE NO: 999 998-2
As with previous instalments of CPO’s invaluable Wellesz symphony cycle, the three works presented here offer highly contrasting visions of the Austrian composer’s style. The First Symphony, written at the end of the Second World War when Wellesz was 60, represents one of the earliest compositional fruits of his enforced exile in England. Not surprisingly, this strongly tonal work is imbued with a considerable degree of nostalgia and longing for his homeland, and culminates in a profoundly beautiful slow movement whose achingly chromatic string lines and sombre brass chorales pay overt homage to Bruckner. Even at this late stage in his career Wellesz probably entertained hopes that he would be invited back to Vienna to resume his composing and academic career as before the Anschluss. That no such invitation was forthcoming must have been a bitter disappointment, and it may even have affected the course of his stylistic development which in the Eighth Symphony and the explosive Symphonic Epilogue explores a vein of angry Expressionism reminiscent of his teacher Schoenberg. Although the fragmentary nature of these later works makes them far less approachable than the First Symphony, Gottfried Rabl and the Vienna RSO invest all three scores with fine attention to detail and a sure sense of structural direction, both of which are enhanced by an admirable recording that balances warmth with clarity. Erik Levi