Hermann Bäumer

Josef Bohuslav Foerster: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4

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Neither Josef Bohuslav Foerster's Third Symphony of 1894 nor his Fourth Symphony of 1924 could be considered ahead of their time. Indeed, they are barely of their time. His Third has much of heroic middle period Dvorák and Brahms in it while his Fourth, the "Easter Eve" symphony, mixes the weight of late Bruckner with the expressivity of middle period Mahler. But whatever their time, they could and should be considered as vital works in their own right written by a talented, sincere, and distinctive composer. In this 2009 MD&G disc by Hermann Bäumer and the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra, the Third and Fourth get what will probably be considered their standard reference performances for years to come. Part of the reason for this is the fact that there are only three other recordings of the Fourth and no other recordings of the Third. And part of the reason is that these performances are so powerful and persuasive themselves. While those listeners who already know it will always treasure Rafael Kubelik's 1948 recording of the Fourth with the Czech Philharmonic, Bäumer's is easily as devoted and nearly as successful at conveying its deeply religious sentiment. With the professional and passionate Osnabrück behind him, Bäumer takes Foerster's Fourth to heights unmatched by Vaclav Smetacek's lackluster 1968 recording with the Prague Symphony Orchestra or by Lance Friedel's fatally dreary 2004 recording with Bratislava's Slovak Radio Symphony. Bäumer's Third is nearly as fine a performance of nearly as fine a work. The overall tone is lighter and more lyrical, but there are passages of deep beauty, too, and Bäumer and the Osnabrück's performance makes the most of the works' considerable merits. As usual, Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm delivers clear, rich, and deep sound. Anyone who thinks they've plumbed the depths of Central European late Romantic orchestral music should think about trying this disc.

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