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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



 

HERBERT KEGEL
Legendary Recordings

CD1 [76.11]
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 1
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 4
SCHENKER Landscapes for Large Orchestra
CD2 [77.24]
MAHLER Symphony No. 1
GOLDMANN Symphony No. 1
CD3 [74.24]
BERLIOZ Symphonie Fantastique
DESSAU Sea of Tempests
CD4 [75.19]
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition
PROKOFIEV Love of Three Oranges suite
BARTOK Divertimento for Strings
CD5 [78.28]
HINDEMITH Trauermusik
MEYER Poem for viola and orchestra
BARTÓK Viola Concerto; Violin Concerto No 2
CD6 [51.18]
VIVALDI

CD7 [63.31] and CD8 [60.17]
BRITTEN War Requiem
PENDERECKI Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima
BERG Violin Concerto
CD9 [47.39] and CD10 [51.58]
SCHOENBERG Moses und Aaron
CD11 [79.18]
BERG Three Fragments from Wozzeck (1921-4) [20.19]
BERG Adagio from Lulu Suite (1934) [8.54]
WEBERNPassacaglia Op. 1 (1908) [12.01]; Five Movements Op. 5 (1909/29) [10.25]; Six Pieces Op. 6 (1928) [13.12]; Five Pieces Op. 10 (1910-13) [4.12]; Symphony Op. 21 (1928) [9.23]
CD12 [58.36]
ORFF Carmina Burana
CD13 [62.41]
STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite
STRAVINSKY The Nightingale
STRAVINSKY Capriccio
CD14 [68.31] and CD15 [52.55]
SCHOENBERG Gurre-Lieder
recordings made 1960-1989
various soloists and choirs
Leipzig Radio SO
Leipzig Radio Chamber Orchestra
Dresden Philharmonic
conducted by Herbert Kegel
EDEL CLASSICS 0002332CCC
[15CDs:76.11+77.24+74.24+75.19+78.28+51.18+63.31
+60.17+47.39+51.58+79.18+58.36+62.41+68.31+52.55]

This is a massive set and follows in line from the multi-CD sets previously issued by EDEL. There are two Konwitschny boxes (volume 2 being available only to the German market) and impending Kurt Sanderling (16CDs) and Otmar Suitner (11CDs) boxes. Long may this line continue. There is scope for Güttler, Neumann and Masur sets all drawn from this rich treasury which remains largely in shady eclipse beyond Germany.

The War Requiem and the Gurre-Lieder are digital. Everything else is analogue remastered using Sonic Solutions No-Noise System.

Full details of personnel only are listed on the back of the standard livery hard-card pockets which house each CD. Kicking the trend, and usefully too, EDEL detail the publishers of each work included.

There are no texts or notes whatsoever. Some of my colleague reviewers will be reaching for their baseball bats with which to pummel EDEL. Now I would rather have had the texts and some background but without them the set's value is unimpaired. There are libraries and there is the internet. What you need to know go and find out. Whatever happened to initiative? Does such information have to be served up to us pre-digested and prêt-à-porter? Great if it can be but not essential. What we need to take to heart is that this is the most astounding bargain and if part of the price we pay is the absence of a bit of text then this is a mere nothing in the face of such an aural adventure in a musical treasury.

The fifteen card pockets rest easily in the fold-down sturdy box. I rather wish that other purveyors of 'Editions' would save us the shelf space by adopting the same approach. Brilliant Classics (two of whose sets I have been auditioning recently) are quite profligate with space using double width cases to hold two CDs and slip cases around single standard width jewel cases. Their wallet alternatives are to be preferred.

And finally to the music. ....

CD1

Kegel's 1963 Shostakovich 1 [29.38] is most superbly controlled. Every feature is balanced with the impression of fine judgement and care. This is a performance that will have you thinking about this revolutionary student work in a new light. The recording, made in 1962, is sweetly done with hiss almost completely nullified.

Six years onwards and Kegel was engaged with the Sibelius symphony one would most have expected him to take up. Sibelius's Fourth is taken expansively [35.03]. One could never accuse Kegel of taking this work lightly. Once again sound quality is very agreeable and far from bland. The Leipzig RSO's first cello chose not to breathe as much character into the work when compared with Maazel's man in the Decca set. Kegel's high violins, when piling on the pressure, sound terrific - refined and yet red-blooded - for example at 6.06 in the first movement. The tempo largo movement is extremely atmospheric recorded in an ideally resonant acoustic. This is a freshly envisioned reading which you are unlikely to leave without questioning any assumptions you may previously have made about Kegel.

While Siegfried Stockigt (a regular in Leipzig recordings) and György Garay (pianist and first violin) in the Shostakovich get a named billing (unusual this, in Shostakovich recordings) the various solo lines are not named in the Sibelius.

Sibelius does well in the EDEL/Berlin Classics catalogue and there are hidden treasures to be uncovered with their Sanderling cycle (recently licensed out to Brilliant Classics). Their partial Sibelius Garaguly cycle should not be neglected. I hope to cover these in due course.

Friedrich Schenker's work from 1976 is each in four Landscapes playing in total for just over eleven minutes. Schenker, born in 1947, is, on this showing, determined Webernian pointilliste stuff whispering and warbling with the language of pitter, patter, plinks and plunks. The third Landschaft can be furiously explosive but gradually subsides into resigned sighs, flickers and flutters of sound. This recalls the sort of expressionist dream Ramon Zupko and Bill Russo were peddling in the 1970s.

CD2

Mahler's First is not the symphony I would have expected Kegel to opt to record; six or nine might have made more predictable choices. Kegel seems from his discography to have modernist tastes. From that point of view he bears comparison with Norman del Mar many of whose LPs in the 60s were of British contemporary while Kegel was busy behind the Iron Curtain in Dresden and Leipzig recording Dessau, Penderecki and Schoenberg. Both Kegel and Del Mar in fact had other dimensions. Del Mar was an out-and-out Straussian as well as a champion for people such as Bantock (Omar), Lambert (Music for Orchestra), Bax (Symphony No. 6 on Lyrita), Elgar (Enigma and Pomp and Circumstance) and Moeran (Symphony in G minor). Kegel undertook Vivaldi, as we shall see, as well as the English composer Alan Bush.

In this Mahler case Kegel forsakes the Leipzig RSO and teams up with the Dresden PO (not the more famous Staatskapelle) in a performance notable for its first movement's lilting romance and Mozartian smile though rather deliberately four-square in the kräftig bewegt and Stürmisch bewegt. He takes things with a slow sway in the Feierlich movement which is also rather ghoulish. Kegel conveys the work's parities with the world of the Wunderhorn. He would have made a Mahler 4 well worth hearing.

Friedrich Goldmann's First Symphony is written in the argot of fragmentation and collision typical of the sixties: squalls, shrieks, growls, roars and screeches, skittering, whispers, swoops and flurries. Kegel is now back with the Leipzig RSO complete with orchestral piano. The sound is typically excellent - as good as that for Schenker on CD1. As for the music it does nothing for me though it builds up an undeniable head of steam and some excitement and even a self-mocking sense of humour in the whooping vivo which sometimes sounds like Walton with the brakes off.

Both recordings were made 1979.

CD3

One can see why the Berlioz Symphony would appeal to Kegel. It is a work of revolutionary genius in the character of an opiate phantasm. The recording was made in 1984 and finds the wondrously clean sound of the Dresden SO in the Mahler 1 replaced by a still gleaming sheen but with a blur of close-up coarseness in the violin sound which was absent in 1979. All the other Kegel strengths emerge uncompromised: rhythmic tautness, minute attention to dynamics, a mite calculated but none the worse for any of that.

The Dessau continues the pattern of ‘familiar with unfamiliar East German’. This template runs through the first three discs, halts for CD4 and resumes once with CD5. In this Dessau work one senses a real cogency in the musical architecture. Superficially the Dessau employs much the same vocabulary as the Goldmann and Schenck but there are two major differences. First the cogent structuring and second the fact that he has no hang-ups about letting loose with an access of Bergian lyricism. Dessau is clearly a composer worthy of attention. The EDEL and CPO catalogues have plenty of his music.

CD4

Kegel makes 'steady as she goes' clarity and precision the order of the day for the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures [32.37] which is thoroughly tracked. The fine string tone of the Leipzig RSO strings is on display. I have heard more romantic readings. This is analytical and balanced without sacrificing excitement.

Pictures is followed by the finest version I have ever heard of the Prokofiev Love of Three Oranges suite [17.55]. This creaks, whistles, steams and sings along like some dream-like hybrid flying machine co-invented by Jules Verne and Heath Robinson. The performance is phenomenal. The Prince and Princess movement is romantic. There are six movements: Les Ridicules (of which Kegel and his orchestra make a fantastic showing), The Magician Tchelio plays cards with Fata Morgana, March, Scherzo, The Prince and the Princess and The Flight.

For the Bartók Divertimento [25.55] the recording perspective changes and the listener moves closer to the resinous, grind, swing and quicksilver rush of the strings of the Leipzig Radio Chamber Orchestra (presumably a reduced subset of the Leipzig RSO). The molto adagio is given a very bleak reading - no distorting romanticising here. If you have played the CDs in their numbered sequence you will, by now, have come to expect the highest qualities from the Leipzig Radio strings.

All the recordings on this disc were made in 1960-61. They attest to the high skills of the East German engineers and the superior quality of the tape stock they used.

CD5

Good news - for with this disc we are back in the arms of the Leipzig RSO for two Bartók concertos and a work each by Ernst Hermann Meyer and Hindemith.

Davia Binder is the soloist in the Bartók Viola Concerto - the one completed by Tibor Serly. It is good to be reminded of this peripherally known work with its sephardic plaintive tone mixed with Hungarian accents. Its adagio religioso always surprises me for its unvarnished romance - not something I associate with Bartók. The brilliant spark-casting allegro vivace starts explosively and with charmingly grateful playing by the woodwind at 2.38.

Györgi Garay plays the romantic Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 and the 'ticking' guitar serenade opening is managed very successfully. The sound strikes me as more congested than for the earlier LRSO discs.

So we come to Meyer's 1962 Poem and Hindemith's famous Trauermusik of 1936. Davia Binder is the soloist. With the Bartók concerto, she is allotted more than half the playing time of the disc. The Poem is a continuous fantasy playing for about twelve minutes. Meyer falls into the marginal land between his good friends Alan Bush and Alan Rawsthorne; always tartly tuneful, sinuous like Bloch and singing, somewhat like the Barber violin concerto. Meyer wrote some fine works including the Violin Concerto and the Symphony for Strings. Davia Binder gives a committed performance of the Trauermusik written over two days for the funeral of King George V. It is strong on inwardness as in the spiritual Choral. The work's four 'pocket' movements are models of concision.

The Viola Concerto was recorded in 1966; the violin in 1961. The other two works are from 1966 tapes.

CD6

Here EDEL and Kegel buck all the anticipated trends with just short of 52 minutes of Vivaldi - of all people. We are treated to two string sinfonias (P Sinf 9 and 21) one with harpsichord - and four concertos. The four concertante works are for flute, oboe, bassoon and in one case just for strings. P259 (oboe, Fritz Schneider) is so virile and ‘chasseur’ it might almost be warlike. A reverential andante (comparable with the great adagio in the Al Santo Sepolcro sinfonia P sinf 21) gives way to a jocular allegro in the P 72 (Bassoon, Erwin Kretschmar). These are all animated performances perhaps heartless or impatient when the musical material is weaker or is overstretched. This is certainly not the case with the Il Cardellino concerto (P 155, flute, Heinz Fügner) at least not in the first movement. With the P9 Sinfonia the outer movements are orthodox in a typically rum-ti-tum way but the andante is cautiously icy like Winter from The Four Seasons. I should repent of my surprise given that Kegel was a radio orchestra conductor and as such would have had to turn his hand professionally to whatever he was called upon to play. I wonder if there are any readers who recall Kegel's days with the Leipzig Radio Orchestra? It would be good to hear from you.

The Vivaldi recordings were made in 1970 and are with the Radio Chamber Orchestra of Leipzig - presumably a cohort within the Leipzig RSO.

CDs7-8

These two discs show us how British music can travel. Britten's War Requiem has certainly done that. There is a special, possibly extra-musical, dimension to a work of reconciliation written for the opening of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in the 1960s and here played in Dresden. Both Coventry and Dresden were heavily bombed. The Requiem is given in a German version by Ludwig Landgraf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. The work is spread across the two discs with CD 8 starting with Part V - Agnus Dei.

Anthony Roden (ten) is the only British singer in the trio. He is free of that braying quality so revered in some quarters. His distinguished German colleagues are in strong voice. Kari Lövaas (sop) and Theo Adam (bass-bar). Adam is rather thickly-accented but nothing seriously untoward. The other voices are the Rundfunkchor Leipzig and the Dresdner Kapellknaben. Hansjürgen Scholze is the organist. The final section, Let Us Sleep Now, in which all soloists, the boys' choirs, chorus and orchestra develop a steady warming solicitude and an enveloping haze of reconciliation, taps into the great choral tradition also to be found in Mathias's This Worlde's Joie, Howells' Hymnus Paradisi and Missa Sabrinensis and Maurice Jacobson's much underrated The Hound of Heaven.

The substantial works fleshing out CD8 are the Berg Concerto and that ikon of Sixties Polish avant-garderie, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The Hiroshima piece is given by the Leipzig RSO. Scherzer (excellent in the Reger Violin Concerto also on Berlin Classics) is rather scathing and nasal of tone in the Berg. The sweeter sound of Oleg Kagan on the Live Classics label is to be preferred although the orchestral sound is far better represented on this EDEL disc. The orchestra is the Dresdner Phil.

CDs 9 and 10

The only opera in the set is Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron - and that an incomplete opera with Act III left in midstep at the composer's death. Stylistically this stands far distant from Gurre-Lieder. Even without quite the same saturation levels of desiccation and dogma that afflict the Violin Concerto this is no easy listen.

Orchestration however is miraculously clear and unfogged. This is as much a tribute to Kegel and his forces as it is to the composer. Provided you are steeled for a bracing dose of dodecaphony, sprechgesang, stagey whispering effects and, I have to concede, a magically luminous approach to juxtaposing orchestration with choral and solo vocal effects, you will not find this rebarbative.

Act I Scene 3 at 3.35 is worth sampling as just one of a host of illustrations of the delicacy of Schoenberg's vocalism and of EDEL's grasp of stereo separation. It is as remarkable, in its very different manner, as the antiphonal effects in the string choirs and quartet in Elgar's Introduction and Allegro especially where the strings are laid out Boult-wise or Handleyesque.

The more I hear this work the more I see links with the early works; try the night-ride from Gurre-Lieder and compare the riotous hail of choral singing in Act I scene 4. Other highlights include the haunted whispering hunt of the Interlude that separates the two Acts (CD10 tr. 1).

I am not familiar with competing versions but this one struck me as precise, emotionally engaging and passionate.

The cast is:-
Moses - Werner Haseleu (speaking role)
Aaron - Reiner Goldberg (ten)
Young Girl - Renate Krahmer (sop)
Invalid Woman - Gisela Pohl (alto)
Young Man, Naked Youth - Armin Ude (ten)
Another Man - Hermann-Christian Polster (bs-bar)
Ephraimite - Karl-Heinz Stryczek (bar)
Priest - Leonard Mroz (bass)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig
Kapellknaben der Katholischen Hofkirche Dresden
Rundfunk-sinfonie-orchester Leipzig
The ADD rendered recording was made in 1976.

CD11

The Three Pieces from Berg's Wozzeck encompass mystery and that sulphurically caricatured satire we see in Grosz's pictures and in reading 'The Good Soldier Svejk'. Hanne-Lore Kuhse (soprano) is honeyed and hair-raising, horrified and coaxing. The score calls for speech and singing. The orchestra is alive to every nuance and is well presented by the engineers. This is worth hearing even if you think you are allergic to Berg.

Berg's opera Lulu comes from a decade after Wozzeck. The Adagio drifts in time-slowed mourning but there is a surprise in store. I won't spoil it for you.

Webern's Passacaglia is deliriously done with superb range and sonic impact with both the diaphanous and the dramatic well portrayed. The composer had left such open-minded communication with his listeners well behind him by the year after this work. His Opp. 5, 6, 10 and 21 are clearly the fruit of dodecaphony. The 1929 string orchestra version of Op. 5 is used. The mercurial sprint of the third movement should be sampled. The most extraordinary episode is the discontinuity of the third of the Op.10 piece with its hesitant tintinnabulation.

CD12

Kegel recorded all the three cantatas of Carl Orff's Trionfi. The most famous is on this set. The sound quality from 1960 is pretty good with a gripping sense of depth, stage reality and a svelte frictionless sense to the children's choral singing.

The men's singing in In taberna has a murderous Chaucerian quality which is perfectly matched to the music. The same can be said of Kurt Rehm in Estuans interius. Rotzsch's tenor, especially when in falsetto, is rather slender. The choir are brightly virile in Circa mea pectora. Other highlights are the choral singing in Veni, veni, venias. Jutta Vulpius is hard pressed at times but listen to the way she lofts the pianissimo ascent of Dulcissime.

The impression of audio profundity is well conjured but the passage of years have bleached the glorious bass you find in the Previn and Frühbeck de Burgos recordings.

The forces are: Jutta Vulpius (sop); Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (ten); Kurt Rehm (bar); Kurt Hübenthal (bass), Rundfunkkinderchor Leipzig, Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Leipzig RSO. The recording was made in 1960.

CD13

An all Stravinsky disc was to be expected from Kegel. The many florid solos in the Pulcinella suite (22.33) are nicely accentuated and with style. The explosive whip-start to the Scherzino illustrates this wonderfully. The Toccata shows some smudging among the woodwind and the strings do not have the silky quality of the Leipzig RSO. The Toccata lacks the spirited rictus to be found in other performances. Stereo separation is neatly judged and spread.

Le Rossignol (22.12) is tracked into four segments: Presto; Marche Chinoise; Chant; Jeu de Rossignol mécanique. This scampers along in an idiom distant from the extra sec neo-classicism of Pulcinella - like a struggle between Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oie and The Rite. It is accorded a glowingly lively performance which sounds well and is full of impressionistic effects both violent and brilliant.

The Capriccio (17.40) is played by Peter Rösel whose Rachmaninov concertos (also on Berlin Classics) should be worth hearing. Even though this work dallies with the neo-classical 'fleuve' there is plenty of 'juice' and jerky panache. The latter put me in mind, a little, of Kurt Weill. The fact that Vienna seems to grin out of the allegro capriccioso is surprising but fun.

The Dresdner Philharmonie is used in all three works. The recordings were made in 1981, 1983 and 1978 respectively.

CD14 and 15

Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder - for those who do not yet know the piece - is disconcertingly romantic-impressionist. I say disconcerting only because this is not an idiom we usually associate with this composer.

The Orchester-Vorspiel - all dewy forest - is almost imitative of the long dawning section of Arnold Bax's Spring Fire symphony. This is German romanticism pushed so far South it falls into the arms of Ravel and Daphnis. This is a road from which Schoenberg turned but which others including Zemlinsky, Marx, Schrecker, Richard Strauss and Korngold trod with complete embrace.

Determined Gurre-Lieder collectors might well find this box the only way to add this version to their shelves. For the more general purchaser there is nothing here that misrepresents the work. On the contrary this is a perceptive and well calculated version. You can almost feel the radiant burning warmth of the Seht die Sonne. This is a Delian delight in familial relationship with the Nietzschean dawns and sunsets of A Mass of Life.

This version was recorded in 1986 with, at the core, the Dresdner Philharmonie augmented by members of the Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orkesters Leipzig. The choirs are the Rundfunk choirs of Berlin and Leipzig and the Male Voice Choir of Prague. The soloists are Eva-Marie Bundschuh (sop); Rosemarie Lang (alto); Manfred Jung (ten); Wolf Appel (ten), Ulric Cold (bass) and Gerd Westphal (speaker).

 

OVERVIEW

There is much here and Schoenberg takes up four of the fifteen discs. No doubt this is a signal as to the significance and/or pleasure with which Kegel associated Schoenberg's music. If so his range was wide for the two works could hardly be more varied.

Notable omissions? Well the list will be long and will change from listener to listener. For this reviewer I wish that we could have had more of the substantial concert works of Ernst Hermann Meyer and Kegel's radio recording of Alan Bush's Third Symphony, Byron.

Quite apart from those who will track down conductor-themed sets and need to fill the Kegel slot, this inexpensive box would be ideal for the listener wanting a pretty thorough introduction to 'modern' music of the last century.

This is a varied and rewarding box. I cannot find much in the way of a consistent theme and perhaps there is no need to find one. The music is largely of this century and treads most of the boards. Here we find the baroque, the late romantic, the neo-classical, the avant-garde. Kegel is the unifier and is very well served by his orchestras.

 

Rob Barnett

In case of dificulty these disc can be obtained from

Independent Distribution Ltd.
2nd. floor, Elvin House
Stadium Way
Wembley
Middlesex
HA9 0DW

Tel - 020-8585-3920
Fax- 020-8585-3995
e-mail richardr@indidist.co.uk


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