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A Revival Long Overdue

06/15/2012 -  
Jaromír Weinberger: Wallenstein
Roman Trekel (Wallenstein), Martina Welschenbach (Thekla), Ralf Lukas (Octavio Piccolomini, Dragoner, Kapuziner), Daniel Kirch (Max Piccolomini), Dagmar Schellenberger (Gräfin Terzky), Roman Sadnik (Graf Terzky), Edwing Tenias (Illo), Georg Lehner (Buttler), Benno Schollum (Wrangel, Wachtmeister), Dietmar Kerschbaum (Graf Questenberg, Schwedischer Hauptmann, Seni, 2. Kürassier), Oliver Ringelhahn (Gordon, Kürassier, Soldat, 1. Kürassier), Nina Berten (Marketenderin), Claudia Goebl (junges Mädchen), Johannes Schwendinger (Jäger, Bedienter, Kammerdiener)
Wiener Singakademie, Heinz Ferlesch (chorus master), Jobst Schneiderat (assistant conductor) Sebastian Aigner (stage music conductor), ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Vienna, Cornelius Meister (conductor)

R. Trekel (Courtesy of Konzerthaus Vienna)

Jaromir Weinberger was born 1896 in Prague. Considered a musical prodigy, he started studying piano and composition at the age of 5. He graduated from the Prague Conservatory, barely 19, and continued his studies with Max Reger in Leipzig. In 1922 Weinberger accepted a teaching position on the East Coast of the US. Homesick and unable to adjust to the American way of life he returned to Czechoslovakia after just one year. In 1927 his opera Schwanda the Bagpiper was an unexpected success. His use of musical folklore made him a worthy successor of Bedrich Smetana. Until Hitler’s rise to power, Schwanda was performed in 17 languages over 2000 times worldwide. He attempted, in vain, to achieve the success of Schwanda with several other compositions. His opera Wallenstein was premiered in November 1937 at the Vienna Musikverein. Shortly thereafter, Weinberger and his wife narrowly escaped the Nazi terror in Europe. The Weinbergers, whose family did not survive the Holocaust, settled in St. Petersburg, Florida. Weinberger, uprooted for the second time, struggled to re-launch his musical career. After a nervous breakdown, a heart attack and severe depression, Jaromír Weinberger took his life in 1967 at the age of 71.

75 years after Wallenstein’s premiere, the Vienna Konzerthaus, together with the ORF Symphony Orchestra under Cornelius Meister, paid a long overdue tribute to Jaromír Weinberger. This Czech composer seemed all his life to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. His work certainly wasn’t at the wrong place this evening, and was definitely in the right hands. Cornelius Meister maneuvered the large orchestra, the stage orchestra (effectively placed at the rear of the hall), the huge chorus and the numerous soloists impressively through the demanding score.

The monumental opera Wallenstein is based on Schiller’s drama-trilogy. Librettist Milos Kares compressed each one of Schiller’s plays “Wallenstein’s Camp”, “The Piccolomini” and “Wallenstein’s Death” into two scenes, thus creating a poem in 6 pictures. The storyline seems somewhat incoherent. The German translation of the libretto is by the Kafka confidante Max Brod. The success of “Schwanda” had made Weinberger known as a folkloristic composer. Written 10 years after “Schwanda”, Wallenstein offers considerably richer musical content. The score is densely crafted, at times overloaded. There are but few references to Weinberger’s Bohemian heritage, and more to the late works of Richard Strauss and Alexander Zemlinsky. Strictly tonal, Weinberger uses a rich harmonic language, with original chord progressions. A little more care to dynamic details in the performance might have brought out the dramatic quality of Weinberger’s music to better advantage. The score may have benefitted from some slower tempi, especially in the large chorus passages.

After its 1937 Vienna premiere and a German production at the “Thüringer Landestheater” marking Schiller’s 250th birthday in 2009, this was only the 3rd performance of Jaromír Weinberger’s Wallenstein. The German baritone Roman Trekel was entrusted with the title role. His portrayal of Wallenstein was intelligent if somewhat reserved. Ralf Lukas, singing the roles of Octavio Piccolomini, Dragoon and Capuchin Monk, impressed with his luxurious voice. Martina Welschenbach, with her clear and powerful soprano, sang the demanding role of Thekla impressively. All the smaller roles were adequately casted, with experienced singers like Dagmar Schellenberger as Gräfin Terzky and Benno Schollum as Wrangel and Wachtmeister. The young Venezuelan baritone Edwing Tenias, with his warm, melodious voice, was a pleasant discovery. His efforts to tackle the tricky German pronunciation were not always successful.

The Wiener Singakademie under Heinz Ferlesch confirmed its excellent reputation. Once again the ORF Symphony Orchestra under Cornelius Meister fulfilled its mandate performing underrepresented works. The release of a CD recording of this concert is planned for later this year. Curious whether the recording of Jaromír Weinberger’s Wallenstein lives up to the good impression we had from the first hearing.

Wiebke Kuester



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