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This is the fourth release by the BBC Philharmonic under its Chief Conductor, Juanjo Mena, and the discography is going from strength to strength – their recording of orchestral works by Falla was ‘Recording on the Month’ in BBC Music. They are joined on this recording by the bassoonist Karen Geoghegan.
Weber wrote the waltz Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) in 1819, around the time when he was also working on the opera Der Freischütz. The two works crossed paths once more, in 1841, when the latter was performed at the Opéra de Paris. Berlioz had been commissioned to orchestrate Aufforderung zum Tanze so that it could be incorporated into the opera, and he did so by melding Weber’s polished and elegant original with his own sound world, with customary panache. It is the version included on this disc.
Also featured are Weber’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2. That these works should be so neglected is partly down to historical accident; they were composed just four years after Beethoven’s monumental ‘Eroica’ Symphony, the work which ditched the rulebook once and for all, and which turned the genre from classical perfection into a personal musical manifesto. So when Weber’s symphonies saw the light of day, overshadowed by the great master, no one took much notice.
Weber wrote the first symphony between 14 December 1806 and 2 January 1807, while the second took just over a week, from 22 and 28 January. Yet, there is no evidence of undue haste in the finished works, quite the opposite in fact. They strongly display what Debussy aptly described as Weber’s ability to ‘scrutinise the soul of each instrument’.
Also on this disc is the composer’s Bassoon Concerto. Much of the work’s appeal derives from Weber’s ear for sonority, and in particular the dark-hued palette natural to the bassoon. The finale has the bassoon playing a jester of great agility, yet with enough elegant touches to dispel any clichéd ideas of the instrument as a figure of fun. The movement builds to an assured and almost reckless virtuoso ending. Karen Geoghegan is the soloist in this work. Gramophone said of this young artist that ‘lyrical, mellifluous playing seems to come as naturally as wit and charm’.
Carl Maria von Weber: Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance), Op. 65, J. 260 (orch. Berlioz)
Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance), Op. 65, J. 260 (arr. H. Berlioz for orchestra)
Carl Maria von Weber: Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 19, J. 50
I. Allegro con Fuoco
III. Scherzo - Trio
IV. Finale: Presto
Carl Maria von Weber: Bassoon Concerto in F major, Op. 75, J. 127
I. Allegro ma non troppo
III. Rondo: Allegro
Carl Maria von Weber: Symphony No. 2 in C major, J. 51
II. Adagio ma non troppo
III. Menuetto - Trio
IV. Finale: Scherzo presto
“The performances are pretty astringent, Juanjo Mena persuading the BBC Philharmonic to play as if they were a period orchestra, with wiry lean string tone and rasping woodwind.”
“Mena immediately sounds like a natural Weberian who, together with his smart horns and timpanist, has absorbed enough of historic-instrument practice to spare the music the false-sounding weighty Viennese classicism that used to be inflicted on many early-19th-century scores.”
“These are lively, virtuoso performances of works of considerable originality in composition. Not every detail is clear in the generally lucid recording, but pretty well everything in Weber's score is respected...Geoghegan gives a delightful performance of a work that respects the innately lyrical tone of the instrument, and fills the finale with wit while avoiding any clowning”
27th January 2013
“[the Symphonies] may show little of the melodic inventiveness that will be one of the glories of his opera Der Freischütz, 14 years later, but already his acute ear for instrumental colour is evident...The bassoon concerto is pleasant, if nothing like the solo clarinet works.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.