- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

Increasingly, classical music fans are enjoying fresh, new compositions that are making classical recordings once again attractive purchase options. Surprisingly, though, many of these “new” compositions are well over 60 years old.

Like Alexander Zemlinsky and Erich Korngold, many recently rediscovered composers were Jewish. Their compositions, and sometimes they themselves, were suppressed systematically and effectively written out of history by the Nazis before World War II.

The reintroduction of this rich lode of inventive compositions — which often employ extended tonality experiments instead of serialism — into the modern repertoire sheds light on a classical scene that is proving not nearly as one-dimensional as it once may have seemed.

Korngold, the best-known of these rediscoveries, evolved into a composer of popular movie scores in America.

Meanwhile, Kurt Weill, composer of the iconic cabaret-opera “Die Dreigroschenoper” (“The Threepenny Opera,” 1928), found a home in this country’s musical theater. Weill’s American period, however, also left behind a small body of purely orchestral music that is only now beginning to re-emerge, most recently in a phenomenal recording of the composer’s two symphonies, released this month by the industrious folks at Naxos.

Along with the special bonus suite from his musical “Lady in the Dark” (1940), Weill’s symphonies are performed by England’s Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, helmed by upcoming Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop.

After listening to this extraordinary disc, one wonders what the reported anti-Alsop squawking by certain BSO musicians is all about. These performances are as tight, taught and authentic as they can be.

Weill composed his spiky, single-movement Symphony No. 1 in Berlin in 1921. Apparently unperformed in the composer’s lifetime, the symphony was not numbered, and its manuscript was thought to have been torched by the Nazis. Surprisingly, a copy turned up in an Italian convent in 1956. The work, with its dark overtones of the Weimar period, is historically interesting but not particularly distinctive.

That label should be reserved for his later symphony, now numbered 2, which premiered in 1934 but never gained critical traction. Composed in a nontraditional three movements, it is unmistakably pure Weill, with dark, brooding motifs studding its first and second movements.

The work concludes with a breathtakingly original finale featuring inverted recapitulations of the first movement’s opening bars intertwined with Threepenny theatricality — a whirling dervish of acerbic, cabaret-style march tunes that eventually erupt in a manic coda. Hot stuff for jaded musical palates.

Filling out this generous disc is a “Symphonic Nocturne” of tunes from Weill’s “Lady in the Dark,” a musical collaboration including Weill, Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin. Arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, these tracks are enjoyable and less demanding than the symphonies, but still highlight the composer’s acid-etched signature style.

Kudos to Naxos, the other BSO, and maestro Alsop. This is a killer disc. Don’t take this reviewer’s word for it. Already Gramophone’s Editors-Pick-of-the-Month, it’s No. 1 on local book and music chain Olsson’s Aug. 21 Classical Top 10 list. Obviously, word of this extraordinary find is already out on the street.

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