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CLASSICAL  February 2008

CLASSICAL February 2008

Subject:

Music of Rontgen - A Review

From:

Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 19 Feb 2008 22:34:57 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (96 lines)

Julius Rontgen: Aus Goethes Faust
Machteld Baumans, soprano
Marcel Beekman, tenor
Andre Morsch, baritone
Andre Post, tenor
Mark Richardson, baritone
Dennis Wilgenhof, bass
Gijs van Schoonhoven, organ
Koor van de Nationale
Reisopera Enschede
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
David Porcelijn, conductor

cpo 77311

Executive Summary: Derivative, simplistic, and yet utterly charming.

Perhaps Rontgen is still enough of an unrecognized name that some
information regarding his background is appropriate.  Born in 1855,
he came from a musical family. The best known of his teachers was Carl
Reinecke.  Rontgen enjoyed the friendship of Grieg and Brahms.  He was
a fine pianist who performed often and was, from time to time, the
accompanist for the likes of Carl Flesch and Pablo Casals.  One of the
founders of the Amsterdam Conservatory, he served as its Director for
several years.  On his retirement he published a biography of Grieg and
some of the letters of Brahms.  Rontgen enjoyed only sporadic performances
of his music in his own lifetime.  A highly prolific composer, many of
his works remain unperformed.

Written in 1931, his "Aus Goethes Faust," for soloists, chorus, and
orchestra, is a rather childlike exploration of that tragic play. 
Perhaps it is a strange conception of the Goethe, but it is one that
produced some wonderfully rich music.  From the opening strains of this
glorious music you know that you are in the company of a great expressive
artist.  The first section, "Prologue in Heaven" is grandiose, reminding
one of the music of many of his contemporaries; from Brahms and Grieg
to Korngold, Mahler, and Saint-Saens.  While the music is clearly
derivative, it is far from second rate.  There is not the depth, or
profound expression, of a Brahms or a Mahler, but a voice that is clear
and speaks with a totally unaffected simplicity.

The orchestral interlude "Faust's Invocation of the Earth Spirit,"
something of a recapitulation of the opening, "Prologue in Heaven,"
coupled with music of the charming second section, the "Song of the Earth
Spirit," is lighthearted in tone.  Even in the dungeon scene, as Faust's
Gretchen tells us of her fears and sadness, we aren't particularly drawn
into any great sense of angst.  Instead, we are mesmerized by the beauty
of the music.  Mephistopheles follows with an almost capricious warning;
the last measures ending enigmatically with a gesture reminiscent of the
closing measures of the scherzo of Mahlers Second Symphony.  I was left
wondering if Rontgen was suggesting that there might have been a hope
of resurrection even for Mephistopheles.  Rontgens depiction of Walpurgis
Night wont have you sitting on the edge of your seat.  It is rather tame,
not of the same ferociousness of Mussorgskys essay.

The work closes with an apotheosis in the "Chorus mysticus." While it
is indeed quite beautiful, I found this final section to be weaker and
less convincing than the music that preceded it.  A simple recapitulation
of the opening "Prologue in Heaven," would have, for me, been more
engaging.

The work is a curious mixture of gestures.  The program notes alert us
to the fact that Rontgen quotes a wide variety of thematic material from
other sources; from old songs to the music of Bach.  The melodic line,
harmonic rhythm, and phrase structure in many sections, especially the
lighthearted "Auerbach's Cellar in Leipzig: Carousing by Jolly Fellows,"
a setting of Hassler's "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," is perhaps the
most eclectic section, with an almost Gilbert and Sullivan quality to
it.  "There was a king in Thule" brings us the suggestion of an early
French Chanson.

According to the liner notes, the entire score was written in four days!
Indeed, there is a spontaneity to the music that makes such a claim
credible.  This music captures the spirit of a young person full of the
love of life.  What is difficult to believe is that it was written by a
76 year old man in the next to the last year of his life.

This is music that comes to us in that twilight of Romanticism that
brought us the likes of a Korngold.  The music is sumptuous, richly
orchestrated, filled with expression and an almost folk-like melodic
invention.  If you can suspend your notions of the tragic and profound
nature of the Goethe, and set aside any concerns regarding the eclectic
nature of the music, you will be left with a joyous listening experience.

While the musicians were almost a bit too respectful, and seemed to
lack a bit of the lightness and charm of the work, the performances were
suggestive of the highest level of musicianship.  The recorded sound is
superb.

Karl Miller

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