Karl Weigl Symphony No. 1 just shy of Mahler

As I listened to Symphony No. 1 by Karl Weigl, two descriptions came to mind — post-romantic, pre-Mahler. That last impression isn’t historically accurate. Weigl’s symphony premiered in 1908; Mahler’s Eighth Symphony was completed the year before.

And yet stylistically, that was my impression. Karl Weigl, like Gustav Mahler, was a pupil of Robert Fuchs. He also studied privately with Alexander Zemlinsky.

Weigl’s first symphony is steeped in its richly chromatic and dramatically expressive language. It’s a beautiful work, with dense orchestration and fluid harmonies.

It’s also a somewhat conservative symphony. The material’s tightly organized, and well-executed. But I never felt it break through the barriers of the form the way Mahler’s works do.

To be fair, Weigl was just 27, and perhaps still feeling his way. Taken on its own merits, it’s a satisfying listening experience. Even if it does seem more 19th than 20th Century.

Bilder und Geschichten (Pictures and Tales), Op. 2 rounds out the album. Written in fourteen years after the symphony, the work shows how far Weigl progress. It’s written for a chamber orchestra, so the overall sound is much leaner. Weigl’s harmonies are also thinner, and occasionally oblique.

The indefinite tonality and luminous quality of the music reminded me of Debussy. I don’t mean that Bilder was an imitation of Debussy’s music, but rather both composers seem to come from the same viewpoint (at least in this work).

Jürgen Bruns leads the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in solid performances. His straight-forward interpretations make it easy to hear and appreciate Weigl’s craftsmanship.

Weigl moved in a different creative direction than his former classmate Anton Webern. But it’s one that can still bring us pleasure today.

Karl Weigl: Symphony No. 1, Op. 5
Pictures and Tales, Op. 2
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Jürgen Bruns, conductor
Capriccio

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