“In 1849, Richard Wagner declared, with his usual assurance, that ‘the last symphony has already been written,’ ” writes Alex Ross in Monday’s (8/31) New Yorker. “Beethoven’s Ninth, with its eruption of voices in the finale, had, in Wagner’s view, exhausted the form and inaugurated a new age of music drama. The pronouncement went unheeded. In the decades that followed, Brahms wrote four symphonies, Tchaikovsky six, Dvořák nine. … Shostakovich produced fifteen symphonies, Havergal Brian thirty-two, Alan Hovhaness sixty-seven. … the Finnish composer-conductor Leif Segerstam has generated two hundred and eighty-six … All this manic productivity notwithstanding, the symphony entered its twilight phase in the years just before the First World War. The modernist revolution … took place outside symphonic bounds. With the death of Mahler, in 1911, the symphony seemed to lose the world-shaping power that Beethoven had bestowed on it. … Yet twilight has its satisfactions. … I’ve been listening obsessively to symphonies on CD, giving particular attention to the twentieth-century aftermath.  My stereo has been brooding over the likes of Andrzej Panufnik, Edmund Rubbra, and Eduard Tubin, as well as more familiar fare by Shostakovich, Sibelius, and Nielsen. … Such is the sophistication that an allegedly outdated form can achieve.” The article discusses a broad variety of recordings of 20th- and 21st-century symphonies.

Posted September 1, 2015

Photo: The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, with Conductor Steven Errante