The Compact Collection

The week's best CD releases: Weigl: Symphony No 5, 'Apocalyptic'; Fantastic Intermezzo – Berlin RSO/Sanderling; Elgar: Symphony No 3, sketches elaborated by Anthony Payne – London Symphony Orchestra/Davis

Reviewed,Rob Cowan
Thursday 16 May 2002 00:00
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Karl Weigl's "Apocalyptic" Symphony opens from the far end of chaos. The year is 1945, the musical context an orchestra in the process of tuning, and the gesture that sets the symphony in motion a trio of trombones calling for order, like Moses summoning the faithless from the edge of Mount Sinai. Indeed, the second movement is an Oriental-sounding Dance Around the Golden Calf, which is not surprising, given that Arnold Schoenberg was a prominent presence in Weigl's Viennese youth. "One of the best composers of the old school," Schoenberg had called him, "who continued the glittering Viennese tradition."

Weigl's "old school" heaves its deepest sigh in the symphony's third movement, Paradise Lost, where archaic harmonic patterns span 15 minutes of Brucknerian serenity. The effect is expansive and ethereal, and quite unlike anything else from the period, a sort of musical nostalgia for a culture that lay in ruins beneath the rubble of defeated mob rule. The finale conjures the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ending with an equivocal march that neither celebrates nor commemorates. Time marching on, you might say, whereas the mercurial Fantastic Intermezzo "fill-up" was originally intended as the finale to Weigl's Second Symphony of 1921. Again, the musical vocabulary is securely rooted in late Romanticism: it's rich without being over-ripe, knowing but never cynical. A fascinating voice, then, considerately tended by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Sanderling who, with some luck, might now go on to tackle Weigl's still unknown Sixth Symphony.

While the Viennese Weigl was peering across the borders of Romanticism to a wider musical world, the ageing Sir Edward Elgar was doing much the same at home. Elgar's prompts were numerous, not least his new-born love for a young violinist. But time was running out and his bequeathed sketches for a Third Symphony would have to wait many years for the loving hand of another composer, Anthony Payne, to arrange and expand them into a performable order. Payne's achievement is one of the musical wonders of the last 50 years: "elaborated" or not, most people now think of Elgar Three as a valid work in its own right. Numerous performances and two fine CDs have kept the symphony on a front burner, but its latest recording has one prominent advantage over its predecessors: a devastating account of the slow movement.

The LSO performance, conducted by Sir Colin Davis was taped live at the Barbican last December and has a sense of weathered experience that banishes any suggestion of patchwork. Its impact runs parallel with some of late Romanticism's most indelible symphonic slow movements. If you need proof of Sir Colin's involvement, listen out for his sotto voce singing. The recorded sound is intimate and full-bodied, the remaining movements full of affectionate detail. Doubters who have fought shy of Sir Andrew Davis (NMC) or Paul Daniel (Naxos) should give Sir Colin a try. It may well be the symphony's first great recording.

Weigl: Symphony No 5, 'Apocalyptic'; Fantastic Intermezzo – Berlin RSO/Sanderling (BIS BIS-CD-1077, June release)

Elgar: Symphony No 3, sketches elaborated by Anthony Payne – London Symphony Orchestra/Davis (LSO LIVE LSO0019 Available direct from www.lso.co.uk)

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