Röntgen: Symphony No 10, Symphonietta Humoristica, Etc / Porcelijn, Rheinland-pfalz State Po

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RÖNTGEN Symphony No. 10, “Waltz Symphony.” Symphonietta humoristica. Preludes and Fugues on G. H. G. B. F. Old Netherlands Suite David Porcelijn, cond; Rheinland-Pfalz St PO cpo 777 308 (63:19)

Not too long ago, it would have been “Julius who?” But Julius Röntgen (1855–1932) has now appeared enough times in these pages that he should be a candidate for mainstreaming. And yes, in case anyone was wondering, Julius was indeed related by some distant familial remove to Conrad, the discoverer of the X-ray. Thus, the pun in the title, “Through the Bone,” of a Röntgen CD that made my 2008 Want List. The phrase is actually attributed to Grieg who, in describing the effect Röntgen’s music had on him, said, “It cuts through the bone.” But the X-ray reference is unavoidable.

If you have so far been reluctant to explore the music of this Leipzig-born composer whose father played first violin in the Gewandhaus Orchestra and whose mother Pauline Klengel was a well-known pianist in her time, here is the CD with which to start your journey of discovery. Much of what has appeared of Röntgen’s music on disc so far has been his chamber works, though two or three Dutch labels—Donemus, Et’cetera, and NM Classics—have recorded a handful of his symphonies and concertos. But until 2007, when cpo put out a release of the composer’s Third Symphony, Röntgen continued to fly just below the radar, known mainly to those of us who like to wander the byways of the Romantic road.

Describing Röntgen’s music is not terribly difficult. He studied with Carl Reinecke and later with Franz Lachner, but the main influences on his evolving style were Schumann and Liszt, the latter whom he visited and played for in Weimar in 1870 at the age of 15, and of course Brahms, a friend of the Röntgens whom Julius came to know through Herzogenberg. In 1877, Röntgen made a fateful choice, one that may well have led to his fading into relative obscurity. He could have chosen Vienna, where he might have established a lasting reputation; but instead, he resettled in Amsterdam, where he took up a piano-teaching post at a less than fully accredited music school. It was in Amsterdam, however, that Röntgen received Brahms as a frequent guest, and, in 1887, performed Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with the composer conducting. Röntgen also played a key role in the founding of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and was bitterly disappointed when he was passed over for its directorship in favor of Hans von Bülow.

Despite their friendship, the shadow cast by Brahms on Röntgen’s music is insubstantial at best. What you will hear in his single movement Symphony No. 10, written in 1930, is, true to its “Waltz Symphony” subtitle, a postscript to Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier filtered through a long-distance lens all the way back to Röntgen’s teacher, Franz Lachner. That a composer should still have been writing such music in the third decade of the 20th century may also have contributed to Röntgen’s rapid vanishing; but then Richard Strauss himself was still alive and composing music like this right up until his death in 1949.

Röntgen’s first successful symphony—he had destroyed two earlier attempts—his 1922 Symphonietta humoristica is reminiscent of Mendelssohn in A Midsummer Night’s Dream mode and, in its midsection distantly recalls Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto.

Unlike Max Reger’s many examples of Bach-envy, Röntgen’s Three Preludes and Fugues wear their contrapuntal learning lightly, ranging from fanfare-like marches to playful ear-teasers. There’s not a Bach bone in their bodies, and each is unique and delightful.

From 1907 comes Röntgen’s Old Netherlands Suite . Loosely—very loosely—based on a Dutch variant of the Bluebeard legend in which the serial wife killer is in the end decapitated by his latest bride, Röntgen sidesteps all of the blood and gore so favored by Dvo?ák in his tone poems of murder, mayhem, and madness. Instead, Röntgen focuses on the happier and more tender moments—whatever those might be—giving us a symphonic suite in four movements that in the words of note author Dr. Jürgen Vis “is festive and noble from beginning to end . . . and presents a jubilant apotheosis with timpani and trumpets.”

One could hardly wish for better performances or recording. Please acquaint yourselves with Julius Röntgen; you will not regret it.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 26, 2008

  • Catalog Number: 777308-2

  • UPC: 761203730827

  • Label: CPO

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Julius Röntgen

  • Conductor: David Porcelijn

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra