Marko Letonja

Felix Weingartner: Symphony No. 3; Lustige Ouvertüre

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Despite their vast knowledge and profound understanding of music, great conductors are not always great composers. Even one as talented and prolific as Felix Weingartner was something less than a true genius in his own music, though a work as vigorous and colorful as his Symphony No. 3 in E major, Op. 49 (1910), may persuade some that he was at least ingenious. This grandiose work has a broad Brucknerian scope, with more than a little of the influence of Richard Strauss' tone poems and the symphonies of Saint-Saëns and Mahler, so at least on the strength of such resemblances it will appeal to fans of post-Romantic music. In many ways, this symphony seems to be an amalgam of those composers, and one may be tempted to guess which bits were inspired by them, if not cribbed outright. Yet serious listeners may find that Weingartner's own personality is under-developed here, and that the impressive surfaces of the piece disguise a weak musical argument as well. The excessive breadth of the form, with a duration of more than an hour, and the extreme variety of expressions make this piece seem confusing and unnecessarily inflated. (The Adagio, by itself almost 19 minutes long, is the most taxing movement, especially with its tediously drawn out build-up and pompous climax -- with organ, no less!) While one can be impressed that he made the effort, Weingartner's skills were perhaps better suited to shorter works, such as the entertaining, if meandering, Lustige Overture, Op. 53; this amiable filler is a suitable foil to the expansive symphony, and gives some insight into Weingartner's lighter side. Marko Letonja and the Basel Symphony Orchestra give vibrant and enthusiastic performances of both works, and the multi-channel surround sound of this hybrid SACD is truly enjoyable for its brilliance, depth, and realistic presence.

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