Hamlet Overture/Felix Woyrsch

August 22, 2012

One of the great advantages reviewing for Naxos is you’re introduced to material you’ve never heard before. In fact I was totally unfamiliar with the composer as well as the Hamlet Overture. Over the years I’ve developed something of a fetish when it comes to music about Hamlet. I currently own the Tchaikovsky (both versions), MacDowell, Doyle, Walton, Morricone, Shostakovich, Gade, Lizst, and Joachim. I’ve probably missed a couple but this is off the top of my head.

Woyrsch considered himself a self taught composer. He learned orchestration from Berlioz, composition from Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner,  counterpoint with Palestrina and Gabriel among several. He seemed to be caught up with the older masters and never achieved any level of modernism such as Schoenberg. If he’d been born a 100 years earlier his music would have fit right in with Beethoven, Bruckner, and Brahms.

The third version of the Hamlet Overture received its premiere performance in 1812 conducted by Woyrsch. It was well received by the public and reviews were quite favorable. The work begins as described by the conductor as acrid. The timpani begin the work which is followed by a passage of eeriness setting the stage for a well orchestrated section of conflict. There is a section of the horns playing a fanfare responding to the strings as the melody switches back and forth. Mixed in with the agitation we also hear the romantic theme for Ophelia theme, a sharp contrast to the portrayal of Hamlet. The work ends with a somber steady funeral march.

It takes repeated listens to fully appreciate this fine interpretation of this classic take. Put this one up with the Tchaikovsky Hamlet Fantasy, although it is still a top 100 favorite of mine being the first LP I purchased in the late 50’s. We need to applaud CPO and Thomas Dorsch for introducing this material to us. It is nicely recorded with crisp treble and resonant bass. Also included is Woyrsch’s Symphony No. 2 which will be interviewed in a separate review. Expand your horizons a bit and give this composer a try. Well written and quite lengthy liner notes provide much needed information about this composer.

CPO CD# is 7777442

Thomas Dorsch conducts the Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester

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