Sympathetic performance of Felix Woyrsch Third Symphony

This is the second release in CPO’s Felix Woyrsch symphonic cycle. Woyrsch, active in the early part of the 20th Century, was a Keeper of the Flame. Like his friend Johannes Brahms, Woyrsch wanted to work within established classical music forms. But like Brahms, Woyrsch didn’t perfectly preserve past forms. Rather, he stretched them in interesting ways — without breaking them.

Woyrsch’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat minor was completed in 1921. Woyrsch appreciated the music of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Superficially, this symphony doesn’t hint at that appreciation. And yet the work is highly chromatic. The aggressively dissonant harmonies resolve tonally.

But for me, the overall effect is a work that really strains against the limits of tonality. That struggle is what gives this big, full-bodied work its emotional impact.

Also included is an earlier work, Three Boecklin Phantasies op. 53. Woyrsch wasn’t the only composer to draw inspiration from Bocklin. Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Max Reger also wrote works based on his art.

Woyrsch’s 1910 work presents impressions of three paintings, all of which are heavy with atmosphere. Worysch’s orchestrations are quite evocative, especially in the final movement, “Spiel der Wellen” (Playing in the waves).

The painting depicts sea nymphs and mermen in a churning ocean. The foreground merman leers, the foreground nymph looks away frightened. Woryrch’s music is lively and animated, but with a subtext of unease. The movement is both playful and menacing — just like the painting.

The Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester directed by Thomas Dorsch performs credibly. As with many CPO recordings, the recorded sound seems a little soft-focused (to my ears). I personally would have preferred more detail in the sound. But that rounded warmth also seems well-suited to Woyrsh’s music.

Felix Woyrsch: Symphony No. 3, Op. 70
Three Boecklin Phantasies op. 53
Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester; Thomas Dorsch, conductor
cpo 777 923-2

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