Out of the Shadows

Friday, 8 October 2021

Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony - the composer's late symphonic fragments get a new lease of life on disc

Matthew King, Tomas Leakey and The Mahler Players
Matthew King, Tomas Leakey and The Mahler Players
We know from Cosima Wagner's diaries that after writing Parsifal (which premiered in 1882) Wagner was interested in writing purely instrumental music, contemplating the idea of 'symphonic dialogues' and in the final months of his life, her diary makes it clear that he was continuing to think about the symphonic project. In 2010, composer Matthew King became intrigued by one of Cosima's comments about Wagner writing a 'beautiful melody'. It was John Deathridge's book Wagner Beyond Good and Evil that provided an answer in the form of sketches (reproduced in the book) which have simply laid in the Bayreuth archive. There are hints, from these sketches and from Cosima Wagner's diaries, that Wagner was thinking not so much about a large-scale dramatic symphony but writing further in the style of the Siegfried Idyll.

This is the origin of Matthew King's Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony which provides a modern context for these little sketches. King intended the piece to enable Wagner's 'little jewels' to be heard, within a coherent musical context with King writing music which he intends to respond to Wagner's own harmonic idiom. King describes the work as "a piece that plays with history, and tries to imagine something that never happened, drawing connections between tiny scraps of music which would otherwise remain forever separate and fragmentary". 

There is now a chance to hear the results as Tomas Leakey and The Mahler Players have recorded Matthew King's Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony alongside Wagner's Siegfried Idyll on a new disc which is released later this month and can be ordered through the orchestra's website

The disc is the debut recording for The Mahler Players, an ensemble founded by Leakey in 2013 and based in the Highlands of Scotland. As part of the orchestra's Mahler in Miniature project (2013 – 2017) they performed chamber orchestra versions of Mahler’s First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Symphonies, Das Lied von der Erde, and most of Mahler’s other song cycles. Now the ensemble's focus is on Wagner, performing substantial sections from Götterdämmerung and Parsifal, as well as the complete Act 1 from Die Walküre, arranged for chamber orchestra by Matthew King and Peter Longworth and featuring soloists Peter Wedd, Claire Rutter and Iestyn Edwards. 

The disc was recorded at Strathpeffer Pavilion, built in the late 1870s and based on the casino in Baden Baden, itself inspired by the Festpielhaus at Bayreuth.

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