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Thread: Some Great Lesser Known Symphonies You Should Hear

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    Default Some Great Lesser Known Symphonies You Should Hear

    The great symphonies of Mozart,Haydn,Beethoven,Schubert,Schumann, Mendelssohn,Brahms,Dvorak,Tchaikovsky, etc are staples of the repertoire and have been recorded countless times,but there are some less familiar symphonies people should get to know if they are already familiar with the basics.

    For example: The first six symphonies of Dvorak,which are rarely performed ,and are
    chock full of meloic invention and radiant lyricism. The New World and nos 7 and 8 are very familiar, but no one who loves them should miss the first six. There are excelent recordings by Rafael Kubelik, Istvan Kertesz,Witold Rowici, Libor Pesek,Vaclav Neumann and others.

    Paul Dukas: Symphony in C: There's more to this composer of the Sorcerer's Apprentice than you might realize. His one surviving symphony will make you wonder where it's been all your life.

    Mly Balakirev: (1837-1910). Balakirev was one of the most important and influential figures in 19th century Russian music, but for some reason,his music never achieved the fame of the works of Tchaikovsky,Rimsky-Korsakov,Mussorgsky and Borodin.

    Try his melodious symphony no 1 in C. It has both the flavor of Russian folk music and the exotic non-russian parts of the former Soviet Union. You'll love it. This composer died 100 years ago. Why isn't his music receiving more attention?

    Franz Berwald (1796-1868). Berwald is probably the best known composer of Sweden. His highly original and quirky music has had a fair number of recordings, but you almost never hear his music live. What a pity. It's somewhat like Mendelssohn, but much quirkier and unpredicatble.
    His four symphonies have been recorded by Neeme Jarvi, Herbert Blomsted,Okko Kamu, and other conductors. Berwald's music sparkles!

    Albert Roussel: This great French composer,who lived from 1869 to 1937, has unfortunately been
    overshadowed by his contemporaries Debussy and Ravel. But he was his own man, and wasn't really an impressionist at all, although his music is very colorful.
    He wrote four symphonies, of which the best known is the third, but all are very much worth hearing.
    His music is much more vigorous, earthy and straightforward than Debussy anbd Ravel's, and full of pounding rhythms and pungent harmonies.
    Try the recordings by Stephane Deneve on Naxos, or those of Yan Pacal Tortelier and Neeme Jarvi on Chandos, or Marek Janowski and Charles Dutoit.

    Wilhelm Stenhammar: This fine Swedish composer lived from 1871 to 1928 and has sometimes been called the "Swedish Brahms". His music is melodious and beautifully crafted .
    His two symphonies are gorgeous. Try the recordings of Neeme Jarvi.

    Franz Schmidt: This Austrian composer lived from 1874 to 1939, and wrote music in a ripe late romantic style of his own. He studied with Bruckner as a young man.
    His four symphonies are also gorgeous . There is a complete set on Chandos with Jarvi.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg folks. There's a lot more to explore.








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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Another Dukas work that deserves to be much better-known is La Peri, his last work. It's a wonderful ballet, with a rather impressive (and somewhat well-known in the band world) fanfare at the beginning; but the next 20 minutes are pure heaven.

    One of my absolute favorite sets of symphonies is that of Edmund Rubbra. There is something distinctly personal about these symphonies, from form to harmonic language to orchestration. There is a marvelous set of recordings by the late Richard Hickox.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    Schmidt and Roussel, definitely.

    Also the Asrael symphony by Suk.
    Und Morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen.....

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    Me would add:

    Szymanowski: symphonies No. 1 and No. 2 (3rd and 4th are... not totally forgotten?). These are works written more in spirit of Richard Strauss by which he was influenced as a younger composer, but in fact they are not similiar to anything else but Szymanowski. He personally prefered No. 2. It's one of few symphonies from that period that include real fugue. I think so. That it's one of few. I may be wrong, but my faith is strong.

    Hugo Alfven: No. 1 is good for beginning, but more demanding and experienced listeners should go for more mature ones like 3rd. All of them are solid neo-romantic symphonies closely related to scandinavian style.

    Scriabin: Symphony No. 2 is more conventional than two famous Poems but it's hot.

    RUED LANGGAARD perhaps the greatest of all forgotten symphonists from first half of XXth century. Didn't you hear his music? What the hell did you do all your life? Get CHANDOS set or something and don't back until you will embrace his splendor.

    Arnold Bax: Good stuff, said enough, yo. I disrecommend set with green cover. It's beautiful cover but the recording sucks. Get the scottish conductor thing, Bryden Thomson was his name I think.

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    Joachim Raff: His 11 symphonies are the most addicting I heard of any composer. I heard each one about a dozen times and never gets boring. The ones I would recommend would be his 3rd symphony. This one was a colossal success at the time and dubbed a masterpiece. His 5th is even better. The first movement has a theme that will be impossible to forget upon first hearing. His last for he wrote were for the seasons, all of which are very memorable. You can't get enough of this guy.

    Franz Lachner: He wrote 8 symphonies, of which only 3 are recorded. His 5th won some prestigious prize at the time. It is lengthy but I keep coming back to it. I would love to hear his 6th symphony since Schumann said it to be "twice as good as his 5th", and believe me, his 5th is excellent.

    Anton Rubinstein: This Russian wrote 6 symphonies with his 2nd being most famous. The one i would recommend would be his 4th and 5th.

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    For me:

    Kalinnikov: Symphonies 1 & 2. Some said he would be the next Tchaikovsky, but he died young. He indeed has an original tone, and distinctively Russian. Not many recordings, mostly by Russian groups.

    Glazunov: the 9 Symphonies (or, 8 and a 1/4). Just lovely stuff. Romantic, Russian, sensible, nostalgic, incredibly sincere, highly entertaining scherzos, what else would you want? I suggest the 3rd, 4th and 5th symphonies, which are his best, the 4th is my favorite. Suggested recordings are with Jose Serebrier, Neeme Jarvi, and Evgeny Svetlanov.
    "Music is an art, and art is forever. Music should not succumb to fashion, which is passing and forgotten."
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    Oh, and, here's my professional website!

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by superhorn View Post
    This is just the tip of the iceberg folks. There's a lot more to explore.
    Nice post. You put a lot of effort into this. I haven't heard the Balakirev or the Berwald symphonies that I recall. I'll have to look them up. The others are all great choices, especially the Roussel symphonies of which I only have No. 2. I have heard No. 3 on the radio however. The Stenhammar No. 2 is great. It is coupled with "Excelsior!" on Naxos which I acquired based on the name alone. I did not regret it.

    Of course I have at least a couple to add. Gliere's Symphony No. 3, 'Il'ya Muromets' is full of soaring beautiful melodies that I'm surprised are not more popular. Maybe he is considered too traditional.

    Also just today I was listening to Rautavaara's Symphony No. 8, mostly as background music, not really focusing. Movement 4 held me riveted however. About 1/3 of the way through there are soaring sonorities in the violins playing in the upper register a very melodic passage -- except they aren't exactly sonorities at all. More like dissonance. I backed the player up a bit and listened again, trying to determine if these were microtones, that is, if part of the strings were detuned slightly on purpose, or if it is simply a half step dissonance. But not all the strings do this I think - just a few. So it gives it a mysterious detuned atmospheric feeling while remaining gorgeously melodic enough to hum in the shower. The effect is repeated later on, about halfway through the movement, perhaps in the violas this time for an even more profound effect. I've never heard anything like it, and I hope someone knows what is happening in those sections. I hope to spend more time with this piece this weekend.

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    A composer whose disc I bought in the bargain bin of a classical cd shop here in Sydney was the Israeli Josef Tal. All of his symphonies are on cpo (two seperate discs - I got the first one). His music has elements of atonality, but freely applied, and some of it sounds very "Jewish" - a bit like Ernest Bloch combined with the second Viennese school. His orchestration sounds pretty good as well.

    Speaking of orchestration, I really like the symphonies of Lutoslawski. I've got the 2nd and 3rd so far. The 2nd sounds more avant-garde, here his use of chance elements is quite obvious. The 3rd quotes the first movement theme of Beethoven's 5th symphony, but it is "hidden" (for example, Lutoslawski starts off by rapidly firing off Beethoven's 4 note theme, but you have to listen carefully to pick it up).

    Another Pole, Penderecki, has also written some fine symphonies. I've got the 1st, 3rd & 8th. The 1st is the most "radical" of the set, it's all about texture and colour. I really like it how he begins (and ends) with the rhythm provided by an orchestral whip. The 3rd does not grab me as much, it is kind of neo Romantic, as is the 8th, which uses vocal soloists and choir, in the tradition of Mahler.

    The Mexican Chavez was also a very fine symphonist. His cycle of 6 is definitely among the best produced on the American continent. The 1st, 2nd & 4th are the easiest to get into, they are basically monothematic (the first two are in one movement). The 1st is after the Greek tragedy of Antigone, and is quite dramatic and dark, and uses ancient Greek modes. The 2nd, Sinfonia India, uses traditional Mexican idioms. It reminds me of music in old American cowboy films. The first movement of the 4th, called Sinfonia Romantica, reminds me of the big open air sound of Copland, and the slow movement has a Brucknerian gracefulness. I've basically understood these, but the others (3, 5, 6) are harder to get my head around. He seems to build up themes from virtually nothing, and his counterpoint is pretty complex. I have the LSO conducted by the late Eduardo Mata, which is a good recording, but Chavez's own recordings had this earthiness and grittiness which I liked as well.

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    I see Berwald, Stenhammar and Alfvén being mentioned. My favorite Swedish symphonies were written by Lindblad and Peterson-Berger.

    A F Lindblad was sometimes called the "Swedish Schubert", due to his many songs, but it actually fits in with his two symphonies as well. Written in 1831 and 1855, they met the same cold reception as Berwald's symphonies, which really says more about the semi-retarded music climate in 19th century Sweden. But the first one was conducted by Mendelssohn in Leipzig and highly appreciated by Schumann. To me, the two symphonies sound like Schubert's 14th and 22nd symphonies, or even like Mozart's 89th and 112th.



    Wilhelm Peterson-Berger is known for two things, being a grumpy music critic and writing a popular collection of lyrical piano pieces, called Frösöblomster. He is, together with Alfvén and Stenhammar, part of the national romantic era. Symphonies was not his forte, but he wrote five of them, and I really like his 2nd, "Sunnanfärd", which is a dreamed voyage down to Greece and back.


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    Definitely recommend Glier's First and Arensky's First symphonies: great Russian Romanticism.

    Vierne and Chausson each wrote a single symphony worth exploring.

    Magnard and Tournemire wrote four and more mysterious symphonies.

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    Senior Member Falstaft's Avatar
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    I'm learning a lot from this thread of what I should be buying!

    I'll put my two cents in for

    Georges Onslow: I'm not really a huge fan of his works, but his symphonies are certainly unfairly neglected (which is to say very few people have even heard of him). Usually a pretty decorous composer, but there are moments of Beethovenian fire and impropriety (consider the bumptious scherzo of the 4th).

    Kurt Atterberg - Just finished to listening pretty thoroughly to all nine symphonies in the CPO set and give this Swedish uber-late romantic my highest recommendation. There are some brief lapses in taste, but overall this is some of the most accessible, thrilling and giftedly melodious music I've heard in a long time. His slow movements in particular are gorgeous, esp. in Symphonies 2, 3, 4, and 7. The Ninth, which I've been listening repeatedly to in the past couple of days, is a very different animal -- basically a cantata for two soloists and chorus giving a shaved down treatment of the Poetic Edda. If anynone likes the Norns' scene from Gotterdammerung, you'll be watering at the mouth at this.

    Bohuslav Martinu: Taking a bit more time to fully absorb his extremely impressive symphonies, but so far it's paid off. The 1st and 2nd are riveting. The first two movements of the 1st are irresistibly propulsive and maniacally inventive in their use of orchestral color.

    Antonin Dvorak: OP had it right, his complete symphonies are well worth the investment. The Sixth has recently become my favorite symphony of his after the Ninth - that Furiant is worth the price of admission alone.

    Per Norgard: Don't know his complete works, but the Symphony #2 is very unusual, organically constructed from a rather idiosyncratic conception of pitch and rhythm, from what I gauge.

    Rued Langgaard: I'm having *such* a hard time not going on amazon and purchasing the complete set of his symphonies. I have recordings of 1-6 and they are like nothing else in my collection. Parts of 2 and 3 are rapturously beautiful, and the entirety of 4 is like some weird dream (just look at some of the sectional headings). I get the sense that ol' Rued approached each symphony as if it were a totally different animal requiring different formal and programmatic conception than the last. I will break down soon and buy the whole set, if only to hear his "Ixion" symphony!
    Last edited by Falstaft; Jul-28-2010 at 21:29.

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    For me, a rather hidden perl is César Franck's symphony in D.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X88o7dt-qQ

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    I Have the Dvorak symphonies set of Istvan Kertesz and both the symphonies of Balakirev.
    Will listen to Dukas' symphony if I can get it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien Melmoth View Post
    Definitely recommend Glier's First and Arensky's First symphonies: great Russian Romanticism.

    Vierne and Chausson each wrote a single symphony worth exploring.

    Magnard and Tournemire wrote four and more mysterious symphonies.
    I have Arensky two symphonies.

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    Doing my best not to repeat:

    Holmboe
    Aho
    Alwyn
    Atterberg
    Gade
    Maslanka
    Bantock
    Mennin
    Shchedrin
    Cyril Scott

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