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Hermann Scherchen
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Holberg Suite Op.40
(Studio-Orchester Beromünster - 22.IV.1946)
Peer Gynt Op. 23 (Suites 1 and 2)
(Vienna State Opera Orchestra (XII.1950) Licence Supraphon)
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

L'Arlésienne Op. 23 – Recited by Albin Skoda
(Vienna Symphony Orchestra - 23.VI.1950)
L'Arlésienne, Op. 23 (Suites 1 et 2)
(Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie - VI.1960)
TAHRA TAH 510-511 [2 CDs 54.51 + 70.28]


It’s good to follow Scherchen into calmer waters with this double set devoted to his Grieg and Bizet. He had such an extensive repertoire, however, that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are two versions of L'Arlésienne here – one for reciter – nor that he proves so subtle and sensitively adept a guide to this repertoire. First, though, some provenance. The Holberg Suite derives from a 1946 broadcast made when Scherchen was Music Director of the Orchester Beromünster, whilst Peer Gynt first appeared on Ultraphon 78s and this shouldn’t be confused with the 1960 Leipzig recording (with dialogue) that Tahra has already issued. The first L'Arlésienne with spoken dialogue (in German) is from a Vienna broadcast and the second, a decade later, was taped in performance with the North West German Philharmonic.

The 1946 Holberg suffers from rather muffled sound but the virtues are all there – brio and bounce in the faster movements (listen to the Gavotte) and a typically elastic quality in spinning melodic contours in the slower ones. He uses a degree more bass weight than one often encounters from Scherchen in the Prelude but the highlight is the Sarabande, which is even more prayerful and tender than the Air. The pizzicati are well pointed and he sustains the melody at a good tempo (the comparison with the manicured modernism of, say, Karajan could not be more pronounced); Scherchen by comparison opens up a microcosm of genuine sentiment. The Air is, it’s true, quite slow but it’s veiled sensitively and never buckles under the weight of the tempo. His Peer Gynt has many similar virtues and is in better, more open sound. The Vienna trumpets really punch out in the First Suite and there’s a deal of refined phrasing and string moulding elsewhere.

The 1950 L'Arlésienne is in quite blatant but otherwise good sound; in fact it’s preferable to the less sympathetically recorded performance from 1960. The orchestral virtues are the other way around though with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie outdoing the Vienna Symphony at almost every turn in phrasing and tonal subtlety. The German narration is intriguing to hear – if not often – but it’s a shame that the radio producers reduced the volume of the orchestra so significantly behind the narration; orchestrally the principal flute and clarinet make the most impression in Vienna. The 1960 performance is, despite the less than flattering sound, altogether more exciting and mellifluous and, thanks to the recording, less abrasive as well. It’s without narration and shows more fully Scherchen’s command of legato and sonority.

This is Volume II in Tahra’s Archives Hermann Scherchen series and will make a good addition to collectors’ shelves.

Jonathan Woolf


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