Karen Geoghegan, Juanjo Mena – Weber: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Bassoon Concerto (2012) [Qobuz FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Karen Geoghegan, Juanjo Mena – Weber: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Bassoon Concerto (2012)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.23 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | ©  Chandos Records

This is the fourth release by the BBC Philharmonic under its Chief Conductor, Juanjo Mena, and the discography is going from strength to strength – their recording of orchestral works by Falla was ‘Recording on the Month’ in BBC Music. They are joined on this recording by the bassoonist Karen Geoghegan.

Weber wrote the waltz Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) in 1819, around the time when he was also working on the opera Der Freischütz. The two works crossed paths once more, in 1841, when the latter was performed at the Opéra de Paris. Berlioz had been commissioned to orchestrate Aufforderung zum Tanze so that it could be incorporated into the opera, and he did so by melding Weber’s polished and elegant original with his own sound world, with customary panache. It is the version included on this disc.

Also featured are Weber’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2. That these works should be so neglected is partly down to historical accident; they were composed just four years after Beethoven’s monumental ‘Eroica’ Symphony, the work which ditched the rulebook once and for all, and which turned the genre from classical perfection into a personal musical manifesto. So when Weber’s symphonies saw the light of day, overshadowed by the great master, no one took much notice.

Weber wrote the first symphony between 14 December 1806 and 2 January 1807, while the second took just over a week, from 22 and 28 January. Yet, there is no evidence of undue haste in the finished works, quite the opposite in fact. They strongly display what Debussy aptly described as Weber’s ability to ‘scrutinise the soul of each instrument’.

Also on this disc is the composer’s Bassoon Concerto. Much of the work’s appeal derives from Weber’s ear for sonority, and in particular the dark-hued palette natural to the bassoon. The finale has the bassoon playing a jester of great agility, yet with enough elegant touches to dispel any clichéd ideas of the instrument as a figure of fun. The movement builds to an assured and almost reckless virtuoso ending. Karen Geoghegan is the soloist in this work. Gramophone said of this young artist that ‘lyrical, mellifluous playing seems to come as naturally as wit and charm’.

Composer: Carl Maria von Weber
Performer: Karen Geoghegan
Conductor: Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Reviews: It’s good that these works are receiving fresh and agreeably transparent recordings from Chandos and the BBCPO. We need a successor to Marriner, Anthony Halstead and Roy Goodman on Nimbus, John Georgiadis on Naxos (a strong contender by all accounts) and the fondly remembered Hans-Hubert Schönzeler, once on an RCA LP and then reissued on Guild GMCD7138. The disc comes into direct competitive confrontation with a recent-ish and excellent full price CD from Bis and the Tapiola Sinfonietta conducted by Jean-Jacques Kantorow. I have good memories of the now almost ‘ancient’ Schönzeler but have not heard the others.

Berlioz’s fingerprints are all over the Weber Invitation to the Dance. While the maelstrom that was Berlioz is said only to have orchestrated the piece one wonders whether the unblushingly candid references to the Symphonie Fantastique indicate more than ‘mere’ orchestration. It is – or was – a classical ‘pop’ with its manic-triumphant dance spasms and its placid solo cello introduction and farewell. Mena and his orchestra bring real style to the proceedings. The conductor here favours a lean rather than lush ‘edge’ to the upper register of the strings … or is it the MediaCity acoustic? I don’t remember hearing that ‘edge’ when the BBCPO were recorded at Studio 7 in Manchester.

The First and Second Symphonies are full of Rossinian contrast, tense pattering figures and Schubertian vigour. The recording here lovingly lays bare the many felicitous details of these scores. Nothing is skated over. They will appeal to anyone who loves the first two Schubert symphonies or Beethoven 4 or 8 and there is a romantic yet concise pathos to these readings. Weber is never long-winded. If anything he finishes a movement leaving you wanting more; that’s certainly true of the finished-almost-before-it-started finale of No. 2. The skirl and stomp of this symphony inevitably suggests a link with Beethoven’s Seventh.

The Weber Bassoon Concerto is in three movements. It is not recorded as often as the much-exposed clarinet and orchestra works. Taking on a romantic persona here it is jaunty rather than jovial. The music is, time after time, superbly pointed and accented by soloist and orchestra. Karen Geoghegan is recorded upfront and personal without effacing the almost Mozartean orchestral backdrop.

The notes are by Harriet Smith and manage an equable balance between the factual and the musically descriptive: a pleasure to read. We can hope that Chandos will commission more from this writer.

A doughty entrant in the hardly over-populated Weber catalogue. Enjoyable stuff.


Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
1 Aufforderung Tanze, Op. 65, J 260 10:06
(Invitation to the Dance)
Rondeau brillant
Arranged for orchestra by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) from the original version for solo piano
Moderato – Allegro vivace – Vivace – Moderato

Symphony No. 1, Op. 17, J 50 23:53
in C major – in C-Dur – en ut majeur
2 I Allegro con fuoco 6:36
3 II Andante 7:13
4 III Scherzo. Presto – Trio – Scherzo D.C. 3:27
5 IV Finale. Presto 6:24

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, Op. 75, J 127 17:19
in F major – in F-Dur – en fa majeur
6 I Allegro non troppo 8:12
7 II Adagio 4:40
8 III Rondò. Allegro 4:19
Karen Geoghegan bassoon

Symphony No. 2, J 51 18:01
in C major – in C-Dur – en ut majeur
9 I Allegro 9:21
10 II Adagio, ma non troppo 4:43
11 III Menuetto. Allegro 1:29
12 IV Finale. Scherzo Presto 2:17