Mark Mast

Werner Egk: Abraxas

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Inspired by the success of Adolphe Adam's ballet Giselle, which was based on one of his short stories, poet Heinrich Heine wrote a libretto for a ballet about the Faust legend. Plans for production never came to fruition during his lifetime, but Werner Egk took up the project soon after the Second World War. His ballet Abraxas became one of the most successful postwar ballets in Germany, and this is its first recording. The music is very much in the vein of Prokofiev's story ballets Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, the primary difference being the level of inspiration and inventiveness; Prokofiev's ballets are overflowing with striking musical imagery, but Abraxas recycles relatively few ideas to the point of exhaustion. It's easy to imagine that Egk's repetition of certain musical gestures was driven by the specifics of the libretto, but without the spectacle of the ballet, the listener's mind wanders after the umpteenth iteration of what was originally an attractive idea. Abraxas might make an appealing 20-minute suite, but there is not enough material to sustain musical interest for an hour and a quarter. Egk was a competent but conventional orchestrator, so the lackluster quality of the performance is more likely his fault than that of the Orchestra of Landeskapelle Eisenach, conducted by Mark Mast.

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