Monday, January 25, 2010

Composer Johann Wilms; reviewing D'Albert


I don’t order classical CD’s with any frequency like I used to, and the imports, at least, seem to be a lot more expensive on Amazon than they were at Tower Records in its heyday of the early 90s.

But recently I’ve heard a lot of Dutch-German composer Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847) whose symphonies always strike me as like “very” late Haydn. Wilm’s dates are a lot later than Haydn’s (1732-1809) and Mozart (1756-1791) and actually is contemporary with Beethoven (1770-1827). Wilms is credited with the Dutch national anthem (from 1832-1915).

I tried CPO’s recording (2009, so recent) of the Symphony #1, Op. 9, in C, and Symphony #7, Op. 23, in C minor, and the Overture in D. Howard Griffiths conducts the North German Radio Orchestra. The works tend to have lively slow movements (like Haydn) but outer movements that are slightly more expansive, often with elaborate codas (that’s especially true of #7 with WETA plays a lot). There are some delicious modulations and strettos, but not as right or inevitable as those of Beethoven.

Somehow I misplaced my Naxos recording of the Eugen D’Albert piano concertos, and indulged at Christmas in the Hyperiod CD with Piers Lane at the piano with the BBC Scottish Symphony conducted by Alun Francis.

I’ve written about #1 (B minor) as a composition written by a late teen. This is a work that grows on you quickly. After three or four hearings, I sounds like an old friend – and yet brooding nature of the first three sections (more or less like a one-movement Sonata structure with an embedded mid section – perhaps inspired not just by the Liszt B minor sonata but also by the Schubert fantasies) recapitulates a lot of the romantic movement – not just Lizst, but also the Brahms first piano concerto, the Chopin funeral march, and even MacDowell and Tchaikowsky. It sounds like a treasure trove for 1940s film noir scores. But it’s the last six minutes – the stunning, almost atonal cadenza leading to the “scherzo” quickly turning into the “big tune” – that really sums everything up and must have been known to Sergei Rachmaninoff, who also liked to combine tertiary structures, big cadenzas, and scherzandos turning into big tunes. In fact, the emotional impact of the D’Albert #1 on me is very similar to that of Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece, his Piano Concerto #3 in D Minor.

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