Classical Music Review: New Releases

Richard Wetz - Symphony No. 2 & Kleist Overture.  Symphony No. 2 op. 47; Kleist Overture op. 16.  Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Werner Andreas Albert, cond.  cpo 999 695-2 (59'14).

Richard Wetz (1875-1935) was born in Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia and briefly attended the Leipzig Conservatory.  After studying with Richard Hofmann and, in Munich, with Ludwig Thuille, he was recommended for a theatre conductor's post in Stralsund by Felix Weingartner.  Shortly thereafter, Wetz returned to Leipzig where he was introduced to the music of Anton Bruckner.  On the evidence of this symphony, it was a potent introduction.  In 1906, Wetz was named Director of the Erfurt Music Society.  Erfurt is a small city located about thirty miles to the west of Weimar and it became Wetz's base for the rest of his life.  Here he could compose without being influenced by the trends of the day.

His Symphony No. 2 was completed in 1919, but for all intents and purposes it is a work of the late 19th century.  The influence of Bruckner is marked but not persuasive.  Thematic transitions are smoother and the overall form of the work is less episodic, yet the same sense of tragedy and consolation are present.  As in Bruckner, the brass dominates.  The finale opens with a motto played by four solo horns.  The strings enter and a clarinet picks up the theme, but the horns, never absent for long, return and reinforce the clarinet, finally overwhelming it.

Inspired by Liszt's ideas about form, Wetz uses similar thematic material in each of the symphony's three movements (there is no scherzo).  This unifies the work and enhances the drama.  Further unity comes from the rhythmic figures which occur throughout the work.  There is an admirable tension and forward drive.  Of course, some of the credit for this goes to Albert and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz.  The performance is excellent, the horns well under control even in some quite difficult passages in the last movement.

The Kleist Overture (1899) was an early triumph for Wetz.  It was championed by Arthur Nikisch who made some revisions to the instrumentation (it is not clear if the performance at hand incorporates those revisions).  It is a purely abstract piece of music that anticipates the sound world of the Symphony No. 2.  Wetz was not a prolific composer, but, from the evidence of this recording, he was capable of producing music of great depth and beauty.  Werner Andreas Albert likes to record works in cycles, I look forward to hearing more music by Wetz under his baton.

Tony Gualtieri
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