WAGNER Symphony in C
Wagner’s would-be Beethovenian Symphony in C major is tolerably well known. Though a student work, the composer retained a soft spot for it, retrieving the parts in the 1870s and conducting it himself in 1882. Never the most reliable of witnesses, he held Mendelssohn responsible for its suppression. In the case of the Symphony in E major he had only himself to blame. No more than the first movement and a fragment of the second were completed in short score in 1834, rendered performable by Felix Mottl after the composer’s death.
Non-specialists unfamiliar with this torso may find the present issue a more economical introduction than its rivals which include the more generous Chandos anthology cited below. Alongside the two symphonies, Neeme Järvi takes in the familiar Rienzi Overture plus two further rarities, the Huldigungsmarsch and Kaisermarsch. About those, however, Gramophone’s Arnold Whittall was scathing: ‘You’d have to go a long way to find worse compositions by a truly great composer.’
The E major Symphony was clearly intended to be a softer-grained, more Schubertian piece than its predecessor, despite taking off from either the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth or his Fidelio Overture. While neither conductor allows the argument to hang fire, I warmed to the more visceral quality of Märkl’s Leipzig Radio forces, partly attributable to Naxos’s closely focused sound. Audiophiles may prefer Glasgow’s wider-open space. Both conductors give us the classically prescribed first-movement exposition repeat.
Still, it’s the C major that leaves the stronger impression, with Märkl finding real virility in the up-tempo movements where Wagner’s motivic allusions to Beethoven can seem naive. Wind-playing in the marginally more Wagnerian Andante is not ideally refined.
Does it matter that there are so few hints of the mature master in this early Beethoven-meets-Weber idiom? Such ‘unripe’ invention can be fun and the disc is certainly worth sampling. A pity the back inlay muddles the chronology of the works.