Wetz: Requiem / Thüringsches Kammerorchester Weimar

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Alas, cpo’s otherwise detailed and informative liner notes on the music itself offer nothing by way of biographical data on its composer other than his birth and death dates. I was, however, able to find a Web site dedicated to Wetz’s life and career (Len@musicweb-international.com). The following biographical sketch is based on the essay by Eric Schissel found there.

Richard Wetz was born in Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia, on February 26, 1875. At first a self taught musician, he ultimately enrolled in the Leipzig Conservatory and, apparently finding it uncongenial, left that august institution after a mere six weeks. From that point, his career was lackluster at best. After seeking private instruction both in Leipzig and Munich, one of his early advocates, Felix Weingartner, secured a conductor’s post for him in Stralsund. He lasted only a few months. He tried another post in Wuppertal with, apparently, similar results. Returning to Leipzig, he steeped himself in the music of Bruckner, Wagner, and Liszt, ultimately writing a book on Liszt in 1925.

In 1906, Wetz received the post of director of the Erfurt Music Society. By that time he had composed two operas to his own librettos, the second of which was a failure. Two years later, his Kleist Overture, op. 16 was premiered in Berlin under Nikisch (not a bad advocate!). Unfortunately, Wetz’s overture was upstaged by its concert mate, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and garnered only tepid reviews.

Wetz’s career finally took off in 1917 with the premiere of his first symphony. Other works that established him in the German-speaking world include his Gesang des Lebens, op. 29, Hyperion (on texts by Holderlin) for baritone, mixed chorus, and orchestra (op. 32, 1912), and his violin sonata, op. 33.

No date of composition is provided for his Requiem, op. 50. The high opus number, however, indicates that it was produced near the end of his life. He died in Erfurt on January 16, 1935. This release’s liner notes state that the work was last performed in Erfurt on Good Friday, 1943.

By the evidence before me, Wetz is a post-Romantic composer of considerable imagination, skill, and refinement. This requiem is indeed haunted by the ghost of Bruckner, but in its underlying message of consolation for the living, it brings Brahms to mind, and given some of its pastel orchestral shadings and its harmonically chromatic moments, it, especially in its Kyrie, evokes Fauré’s most gentle of requiems. Its Dies Irae gets as close to theatricality as one is to find in this work, but it closes with a sense of resignation, and then consolation. Its final pages are among the finest in this piece. I find it ironic that Lisztian chromaticism, which pops up repeatedly, becomes so similar to that of Fauré, but then, Fauré has often been likened to the French Brahms. Is it a case of cultural diffusion, or merely parallel development?

Without getting into a moment-to-moment analysis of this piece, suffice it to say that throughout this heartfelt work Wetz steers judiciously between the darkness and light inherent in the text. Does this obscure offering by an obscure composer belong in the international standard repertoire? After listening to this fine and illuminating performance, I can answer that question in a single word: absolutely.

FANFARE: William Zagorski

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777152-2

  • UPC: 761203715220

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Richard Wetz

  • Conductor: George A. Albrecht

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Erfurt Church Choir, Thüringen Chamber Orchestra, Weimar Philharmonic Choir

  • Performer: Marietta Zumbült, Mario Hoff