Marschner: Overtures & Music for the Stage Vol. 2

Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra
Dario Salvi
Naxos 8.574482

Heinrich Marschner is described with some frequency as a kind of stepping-stone composer between Weber and Wagner. There may be some mileage in this, though it does rather inevitably lead to comparisons, many of which will lead one to feel there is more of a link to Weber than to even early Wagner. Marschner’s is a style that clearly developed over time and some of his works are, rightly, celebrated, such as the operas Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling, while others struggled for success even within the composer’s lifetime (some were simply abandoned). With this latest release Dario Salvi, in his first collaboration with the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra, shines a light on a few of the lesser known corners of the composer’s output.

The first half hour of the CD is given over to incidental music composed for a production of Kleist’s Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, a morally complex play about a Prince who is successful in battle, but, because he has disobeyed his own military superiors to achieve this victory, finds himself sentenced to death. The ramifications and tensions of the rashness and its consequences give rise to much of the play’s drama. In this early work for Marschner, he composed an overture, four entr’actes and a Schluss Symphonie. To my ear, the music really doesn’t live up to the drama of Kleist’s play and is clearly an early work for the composer. The martial music is straightforward and somewhat pedestrian, while the passages pertaining to the Prince’s inner life and his own moral self-questioning results in music that is sombre, but can hardly be described as probing. That said, it is music that provides pleasing melodic material that I can imagine working well as punctuation points in a well-acted drama, even if, for me, they do not provide illustration as much as they do background.

The overture to Klänge aus Osten represents a cosmic leap for Marschner. Here we have an overture to a dramatic cantata, full of memorable melodic material. It is dramatically engaging, as well as well boasting very fine use of thematic material. However, as the liner notes point out, for a piece concerned with gypsy and Eastern influences, there is no real musical exploration or attempts at Oriental tropes to be found here.

The two sets of excerpts from operas that follow are both from works that don’t appear to have been terribly

successful, but the Ballo from Kaiser Adolf von Nasau is a perfectly charming work. Again, it has the memorable melodies found in the cantata overture, though it does rely rather heavily on repetition to move from one idea to another. The Marsch that follows it is considerably less inspired.

Marchner’s last opera Austin seems to have fallen victim to being rapidly overshadowed by Wagner. Certainly there is more of Weber still to be heard in this work than there is of the younger composer, but some of the musical ideas are still very strong. The overture opens with an insistent ominous four in a bar pedal, which seems to hint at immanent portentous events. Here, I am not sure if it is the composer’s work, or the orchestral interpretation, but what seems to be conceived as an exercise in tension building instead registers as repetitive, foursquare and ultimately dull. Other ideas, however, enter and render this opening quickly forgotten with their more engaging material. The march again shows the composer in decidedly rum-te-tum territory with no real memorable tunes, which could spell tedium for the listener. The Ballo returns to what seems to be the composer’s stronger talent: dance music.

Throughout this release the music is given committed performances by a wonderfully full-sounding orchestra and the solo sections (for cello, horns and violin) in the final track of the CD are all superbly executed. The orchestra and conductor are to be congratulated, as always, for bringing this music to the fore after a period of such neglect. Salvi has once again reconstructed some of the performing materials and the care and attention to detail in the execution of these performances can’t leave any listener unconvinced of the sheer hard work that everyone put into producing this recording. Ultimately, I just wish the music lived up to these

efforts, but it is better to have it available to judge for ourselves than not! DA

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