Rauchenecker Symphony Returns to Winterhur

Georg Wilhelm Rauchenecker may be unknown today, but that wasn’t always the case. He was an influential composer and conductor in his day. The latter part of the 19th Century saw him raise the level of classical music in Switzerland. 

He was the first director of the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur in 1875. He was Winterthur’s School of Music director and the driving force behind two municipal choirs. 

He played string quartets with Hans Richter. And he was a close friend of Richard Wagner. Rauchenecker was one of the musicians Wagner gathered at the steps of his house. The ensemble premiered “Siegried Idyl” for Cosima Wagner as a birthday present. 

Rauchenecker was quite prolific. His catalog includes three symphonies, six concertos, numerous chamber works, nine operas, and a large amount of choral music. This release features two of his more successful orchestral works. 

The “Symphonic Composition in the Style of an Ouverture” is exactly what the title says. Here the influence of Wagner is most evident. The gestures are large, and the orchestration is sweeping. But the work has the flow of a tone poem, without the program. Leitmotifs provide the glue that keeps the piece together. It compares favorably to other works premiered that year, like Brahm’s “Tragic Overture” and Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italian.”

In 1884 Rauchenecker became the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He was hired on the strength of his first symphony. Symphony No. 1 in F minor was written in 1875 and had been performed several times throughout Northern Europe. 

Rauchenecker has some original ideas, and I enjoyed the symphony a lot. To describe it, I’d say it was a cross between Mendelssohn and Wagner — if you can imagine it. Rauchenecker emulates Mendelssohn’s clarity of form and organization. He takes from Wagner an advanced harmonic palette and imaginative orchestration. 

The Musikkollegium Winterthur performs well — as they should. Rauchenecker wrote both these works for his Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur. 

Also included is an early work by Rauchenecker. He composed The Oriental Fantasy for solo violin and string quartet as a showpiece for his recitals. It’s a youthful work, but it makes a nice coda to the album. 

I’m curious to hear more of Raucheneker’s music.  Especially his other two symphonies and his two violin concertos.

Georg Wilhelm Rauchenecker: Symphony No.1
Orientalische Phantasie
Sebastian Bohren, violin; Sarastro Quartett
Musikkollegium Winterthur; Howard Griffiths, conductor
CPO 555 416

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