In 1928, musicologist Alfred Einstein named the three leading German composers of their generation: Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, and Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek. While Strauss’ compositions entered the basic repertoire, those of Pfitzner and von Reznicek didn’t fare as well.
And that’s too bad. All three composers wrote in a lush, post-romantic style and yet each one had a distinctive voice. This recording focuses on von Reznicek’s compositions from 1903 to 1918 — approximately the time period of Strauss’ most popular tone poems and early operas.
Von Reznicek’s music compares favorably to that of his colleague. Strauss’ music has a brashness to it as if the young composer wanted to show off his talents. Von Reznicek, on the other hand, shows his talent in a different way. The brilliant orchestrations and rich harmonies support a mordant sense of humor. It’s dry, witty, and can be easy to miss at times.
His 1900 work Wie Till Eulenspiegel lebte features the same German folk figure as Strauss’ tone poem. It’s a high-energy work, but the humor is less anarchic. But it’s there, making this a delightful overture that works on its own merits.
In 1903, von Reznicek met Gustav Mahler, and you can hear some of that influence in his Goldpirol – Idyllic Overture. While the development of the motifs is similar to Mahler, the orchestration is somewhat lighter, making this a charming work, rather than one that plumbs the depths of humanity.
The high point of the release is von Reznicek’s 1918 violin concerto, a work with a somewhat tortured history. Von Reznicek turned to Haydn for inspiration, creating a concerto where the soloist and ensemble are a team, rather than set in opposition to each other. Some critics thought it sounded more like Mendelssohn than Brahms. The 15th-century folk tune rises to the surface in the finale adds an element of fun.
If you find Strauss too overbearing, and Pfitzner too staid, then I recommend giving this recording a listen. I think Von Reznicek’s a composer that deserves further exploration.
Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek: Violin Concerto in E major
Goldpirol – Idyllische Ouvertüre; Wie Till Eulenspiegel lebte – Symphonic Interlude in the Form of an Overture; Prelude and Fugue for Orchestra in C minor; Konzertstück for Violin with Orchestral Accompaniment in E major; Nachtstück for Violin and Small Orchestra
Sophie Jaffé, Violin Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Marcus Bosch, conductor