Johan Wagenaar: Summer of Life

Johan Wagenaar: Summer of Life

by Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie


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Dutch composer Johan Wagenaar is considered post-romantic, but this designation is appropriate only insofar as it applies to the time period in which he lived. Otherwise, Wagenaar's music was just straight up romantic, sounding largely like Richard Wagner but with not as dense a scoring palette. In this respect, his music is more like Brahms or Berlioz. Sometimes Wagenaar is compared to Richard Strauss, but this projection can be a little confusing as the ingredients in Wagenaar's dish are often part Wagner and even part Dvorák; the most significant thing about his fare, though, is that it doesn't taste quite like anything else. Wagenaar can be stubbornly diatonic and he only seldom utilizes chromatic sequences or other envelope-pushing devices, even within acceptably romantic boundaries. From a mid-twentieth century perspective, any or all of these elements would have been the kiss of death in regard to any revival of such a composer except maybe Richard Strauss. In the opening decade of the twenty first century, however, Wagenaar has been gaining some ground; his music has even been heard at festival concerts in the United States, a market proven long resistant to Dutch composers despite decades of lobbying by the publisher Donemus. There's a reason for this: Wagenaar's music is really good. CPO's Johan Wagenaar: Summer of Life -- Symphonic Poems appears to be the first, full program of Wagenaar's orchestral music on disc since Riccardo Chailly and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw made one for Decca/London in 1990, already a rarity. It, too, contained the "Overture De getemde feeks" (i.e., The Taming of the Shrew; 1909) and the symphonic poem "Saul en David" (1906), but the rest of the program here concentrates on earlier pieces. "Summer of Life" (Levenszomer, 1903) appears to have represented the first flowering of Wagenaar's mature style, whereas the "Romantisch Intermezzo" (1894) and especially "Frithjof's Meerfahrt" (Frithiof's Sea Voyage, 1886) may seem like mere juvenilia to those who know Wagenaar well. Nevertheless, "Frithjof's Meerfahrt" is a fascinating, rough-hewn, and vibrantly exciting piece, more cutting-edge than anything else on this album. To Wagenaar, refinement seems to have meant moving away from the folksy, proto-Sibelian idiom of "Frithjof's Meerfahrt" and toward a more generically Eurocentric style. One would like a bit more definition and power than that afforded by the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie and Dutch maestro Antony Hermus; the ensemble is a little ragged on occasion, and grand dramatic flourishes in Wagenaar's music come off as a bit anemic at times. But these are generally solid and dependable performances, the recording quality is acceptable if a little distant, and hopefully this will add to a growing body of recordings of this composer. If your taste runs to Wagner, Dvorák, or even Tchaikovsky, you might well find Wagenaar a revelation; while for some listeners he may have been born 30 years too late to ply the trade that he did, in music, dividends do get paid to people who stick with what they are best at.

Product Details

Release Date: 11/17/2009
Label: Cpo Records
UPC: 0761203747924
catalogNumber: 777479
Rank: 215467


  1. Frithjof's Meerfahrt, concert piece for orchestra, Op. 5
  2. Romantisch Intermezzo, for orchestra, Op. 13
  3. Saul en David, symphonic poem, Op 24
  4. Levenszomer, for orchestra, Op. 21
  5. Overture De getemde feeks, for orchestra, Op. 25

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