Julius Röntgen – A romantic symphonist

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It was not a quick and easy decision to add this recording of Röntgen (1855 – 1932) symphonies to my blog. I’ve listened to the recording many times. The problem has been that there are some sections of music that seemed to lag in terms of effectiveness. But there is so much here that is really beautiful, powerful and moving that in the end, I could not pass it up.

The only currently available recordings of Julius Röntgen’s symphonic oeuvre are on the cpo label. They are all conducted by David Porcelijn leading three different orchestras. In this recording of symphonies numbered 5, 6 & 19, Mr. Porcelijn leads the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. Each of the three symphonies differs in some structural ways from the others. The Sixth is in one movement and the orchestra is joined by the vocal ensemble Consensus Vocalis; the Nineteenth, purely orchestral, is in five movements, and the Fifth is in three movements with the choir appearing again as well as tenor soloist Marcel Beekman.

Röntgen’s music is an outgrowth of the German Romantic tradition of Schumann and Brahms, with added outside influences that include Dvorak, Saint-Saens and even Rimsky-Korsakov. The music is tonal and melodic. I’ll talk just a little about Symphony no 5, which is last on the CD and my favorite of the lot.

The score for the Fifth Symphony was only discovered in 2005. It was one of a series of works that Röntgen wrote in response to the horrific events of WW I. It opens with the trombones and trumpets intoning, in the manner of a fanfare, the melody that the tenor soloist will so lyrically sing two movements later. This fanfare provides the thematic material for the entire movement (and in fact, the symphony), which Röntgen masterfully develops. After the beautiful slow middle movement – which especially is what reminded me of Rimsky-Korsakov- the third and final movement opens mysteriously with an altered version of the symphony’s opening theme, leading up to the poignant entrance of the tenor soloist and chorus. The text is of self-resignation and of coming to terms with death, which “opens heaven to everything that is mortal.” Each of the some dozen times that I have heard this, I’ve felt the same chills that only wonderful music can bring.

The more I listened to this CD, the more I enjoyed it. In the end, it’s an easy recommendation for anyone who doesn’t know these symphonies, and a warm hearted recommendation for the beautiful Fifth.

For a taste of Röntgen’s music, here is an excerpt from his Violin Concerto.