Fritz Volbach was a German composer and organist. Most of his important works were composed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Like many composers of the late Romantic era, he was pulled between the influences of Brahms and Wagner.

Judging by the sound of these works, Volbach drew inspiration from both. The release opens with Es waren zwei Königskinder, a tone poem premiered in 1900. Volbach based it on a folk ballad. His treatment of the melody sets it to rich harmonies that slide chromatically from one to the next.

And while the treatment is Wagnerian, the scope isn’t. Volbach exercises some restraint, keeping the music uncluttered and somewhat focused. Es waren zwei Königskinder was one of his most popular works for good reason. It’s something that could appeal to both supporters of Wagner and Brahms, without offending either.

Volbach’s Symphony in B minor, Op. 33 premiered in 1908. Here the influence of Brahms seems stronger. Themes are laid out in clear-cut fashion. They’re developed with rigorous logic, spiced with some imaginative orchestration.  and laid out in a traditional four-movement form.

Taken by itself, Volbach’s symphony delivers a satisfactory listening experience. The work is masterfully composed and orchestrated. There are traces of Schubert and Beethoven, with some exciting counterpoint in the finale.

As well-written as the symphony is, it’s quite conservative. Other works that premiered the same year include Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Vaughan Williams’ “Sea” Symphony, and Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra. Volbach’s music must have sounded reassuring to audiences of the day.

The Sinfonieorchester Münster does a good but not great job. The soloists sound fine, and the ensemble is well-recorded. But there are some intonation problems scattered throughout that kept pulling me out of the moment.

Fritz Volbach: Symphony No. 33; Es waren zwei Königskinder
Sinfonieorchester Münster; Golo Berg, conductor
CPO 777 886–2