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JOSEF PETER HEINZER - Symphony No. 4 - Baie Malhaut - Christoph Rehli (Conductor) - Pilsen Radio Symphony Orchestra - 7619948517247 - Released: April 2012 - Swiss Pan SP51724

I must admit that when this CD landed on my desk for review, I was a little skeptical as to its potential quality. After all, Swiss composer (self-taught it seems, and chemist, and programmer) Josef Peter Heinzer (*1935) is not exactly a household name, nor are the conductor and orchestra, and the recording itself (dating back to 2006) is on an obscure label that now seems defunct. None of this composer's music, including 8 symphonies, concertos and chamber works, appears anywhere else except for some chamber music pieces on the same label. The fact that none of the mainstream or major labels have shown any interest in this music is usually, at least to me, an indication of its failure to measure up to certain standards. But, as always, I did some pre-listening research into the composer and whatever information I could find on the music, and my skepticism quickly turned into curiosity. And within minutes into my initial listening session, my prejudices were proven to be totally false. Another reviewer recently commented that Heinzer's writing can best be described as "innocent clumsiness". That may be true if you were expecting a "connect the dots" type of composer. But, thank goodness, Heinzer is way beyond that.

The first few minutes of the opening movement of the Symphony No. 4 instantly bring to mind the music of Anton Bruckner. Not surprising when you consider that it was the music of Bruckner that impressed him enough to convince him to start writing his own symphonies. It's the same style and similar orchestration (except for the extra percussion instruments) that characterize the start of this symphony. But that impression quickly dissipates as page by page, the writing takes on its own powerful persona. The work is divided into six movements based on pictures that his father painted (illustrations of which are found inside the CD booklet) in the countryside around Stein am Rhein, where the composer was born. The cover of this CD is actually the painting that inspired the first movement. All movements flow seamlessly from one to the next to create one singular idea developed to its fullest. The Bruckner tinged brass lines from the opening become, in the third movement, the instigators of passages of awesome momentum built upon layer upon layer of tense rhythmic pulses. The following Adagio perfectly fuses together both the tragic and the serene, as nightmarish visions would upset a peaceful slumber. And the final Allegro movement builds up so much steam as to become a powerful runaway locomotive hurtling into the unknown darkness. Absolutely no "connect the dots" here. This impressive symphony as so captured my attention that I can't seem to stop listening to it over and over again, so I'm afraid that I haven't given the other work on this recording, the Baie Mahault for violin, cello, piano and orchestra its due consideration. It is inspired by the composer's own impressions of the underwater world, since Josef Peter Heinzer is also a diver. Although not as involved or adventurous as the symphony, my first impressions lead me to believe that once I've listened to it as much as I have the symphony, it will have become just as engaging.

I can pretty well guarantee that if you were to listen to this recording without prior knowledge of its contents, you would immediately assume that it was music by a famous composer, interpreted by an astute and established conductor, leading a top rank orchestra. Attention all label executives: For your next round of recording projects, why not consider a cycle of all of Josef Peter Heinzer's symphonies. I'm sure that would make many avid listeners and collectors happy.

Jean-Yves Duperron - December 2013