Walter Braunfels Fantastical Apparitions a Sonic Thrill Ride

The seventh release in Capriccio’s Walter Braunfels series features two important compositions — his massive set of Berlioz variations, and his final orchestral work.

The “Phantastische Erscheinungen eines Themas von Hector Berlioz” (Fantastical Apparitions Of a Theme by Hector Berlioz) took three years to complete. Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, “Apparitions” is as much a thrill ride as Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique.

Braunfels was a masterful orchestrator, and this work has everything from big, sweeping orchestral gestures to intimate, pared-down passages that emulate chamber music.

Completed in 1917, the work rests on a lush bed of Post-Romantic Viennese harmonies. For me, there’s no other way to describe the rich quality of this music.

Braunfels’ 1948 Sinfonia brevis seems based on a different aesthetic. Braunfels remained a tonal composer, but his final orchestral work seems tighter and more focused.

The harmonies are sparser, and the orchestrations leaner. While the melodies are quite beautiful, there’s a no-nonsense quality about this sinfonia. “Apparitions” seemed in no hurry to set up its musical premises and develop them. The sinfonia did so in a more efficient and concise manner.

Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz directed by Gregor Buhl does a fine job with both works. Buhl seems to approach each score on its own terms. He draws a warm, creamy sound from the orchestra for “Apparitions.” And has the same ensemble play in a reserved, slightly astringent fashion for the sinfonia.

Braunfels was one of many German composers whose career was derailed by the Nazis. Recordings like this help bring his remarkable music back into the light.

Walter Braunfels: Fantastical Apparitions of a Theme by Hector Berlioz, Op. 25;
Sinfonia Brevis, Op. 69
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Gregor Buhl, conductor
Capriccio C5354

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