CPO Revives Brahms Contemporary, Anton Urspruch

Anton Urspruch (1850-1907) is hardly a household name — even among classical music aficionados. In the 1880s, though, he was a rising star. Urspruch studied composition with Joachim Raff and Ignaz Lachner. He was a star piano pupil of Franz Liszt. As a scholar, he’s credited with the revival of Gregorian Chant.

Urspruch enjoyed an international reputation during his lifetime as a pianist, musicologist, and composer. After his death at the age of 56, though, Urspruch virtually vanished from the music scene.

CPO hopes to correct that with a 2-CD set of Ursprurch’s major instrumental works — his piano concerto and symphony.

Urspruch’s 1878 piano concerto is filled with technical challenges worthy of Liszt. Yet Urspruch’s music seemed more reserved than that of his teacher. The concerto is carefully constructed, more in keeping with the ideals of Beethoven and Brahms (whom Urspruch knew well).

Oliver Triendl delivers an excellent performance. His playing brings out the beauty of Urspruch’s melodies. Triendl has clearly mastered the difficulties of the concerto, making them sound almost effortless (while still quite impressive).

Urspruch’s Symphony, written just three years later, reminded me quite strongly of Raff’s symphonies. There’s the same clarity of form. Urspruch, like Raff, is a masterful orchestrator and knows exactly what he wants to do with his material.

A critic of the day wrote after a performance, “Brahms is the only other composer who could have written it!” I wouldn’t go that far. Urspruch’s voice isn’t quite the same as his colleague’s. But I understand the sentiment.

Like Brahms, Urspruch constructed his works without extra-musical considerations. Urspruch, like Brahms, seems comfortable to use the symphonic form to develop his musical ideas. And the end result is a work well worth hearing.

Will Anton Urspruch’s symphony and piano concerto replace one of the late Romantic repertoire standards? Probably not. But they are well-crafted works that do deserve to be heard again.

Anton Urspruch: Piano Concerto Op. 9 in E-flat major; Symphony No. 14 in E-flat major
Oliver Triendl, piano
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie
Georg Fritzsch, Marcus Bosch, conductors
2 CD Set

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