Jaromir Weinberger – Schwanda and beyond

Show of hands: how many played the Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper in their highs school or college band? Jaromir Weinberger’s piece has made him a one-hit-wonder. An as with many composers, it does him something of a disservice.

It is true, I think, that in Schwanda the Bagpiper all the threads of Weinberger’s style come together. This Bohemian composer was proud of his heritage, and the folk-like tunes of Schwanda show that.

Weinberger also understood musical drama and wrote effectively both for voice and orchestra. The symphonic selections included here effectively set the stage for the story to unfold.

Sections of this suite sound like Hollywood soundtracks — save Weinberger’s 1929 music predates those scores by at least ten years.

The Bohemian Songs and Dances were also folk-inspired, but here Weinberger writes in a more sophisticated language. These dances are quite charming and show Weinberger’s skill as an orchestrator.

The Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Palz, directed by Karl-Heinz Steffens has a suitably big sound. Steffens leans into the folk qualities of the score. In the case of “Schwanda,” it gives the music a seeming simplicity. For the dances, it adds an exotic element.

To my ears, the orchestra seemed recorded in a bit of a soft-focus; extreme high and low tones lacked definition. This blunted the impact of the orchestra, somewhat.

I can still recommend the album — the repertoire is worth exploring. The recorded sound just seemed to lack sparkle.

Jaromir Weinberger: Orchestral Works from “Schawnda”
Bohemian Songs and Dances, I-VI; The Beloved Voices Overture
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Karl-Heinz Steffens, conductor

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