Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Radio Symphony Orchestra/Carl Schuricht
(Recorded in the Herkulessaal, Munich. 8th March 1963)
C 548 001 B [56.57]
The description "one of the old school" could have been invented for Carl Schuricht. Senior in years to his colleagues Furtwångler, Klemperer, Knappertsbusch, Kleiber and Krauss, he was appointed Chief Music Director in Wiesbaden in 1912 and stayed until 1943, apparently content all that time. That kind of devotion to one place and one orchestra is something that has long gone. The liner notes say he made no commercial recordings in all that time and, unlike those other colleagues mentioned, was hardly well known internationally until quite late in his career. However, Schuricht did record Bruckner's Seventh for Polydor in 1938 with no less than Furtwängler's Berlin Philharmonic (available on Iron Needle IN 1388) and there was that legendary performance of Mahler's "Das Lied Von Der Erde" in Amsterdam in 1939 (now on Archiphon ARC-3.1 or Grammofono 2000 AB 78553) where he replaced a sick Mengelberg and paid the price with an anti-Nazi heckle from the audience. Only after retiring from his thirty-one year period in Wiesbaden, where there is evidence he may have earned the displeasure of the Nazi hierarchy, did Schuricht establish a close relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic who idolised him to the extent of eventually giving him Honorary Membership. However the "old school" epithet goes even further. Schuricht's willingness to stay in one place for so long and for the rest of his life to eschew the glamour and fame available to conductors of his gifts and ability is reflected in the way he made music. Schuricht was almost the archetype for the Prussian Kapellmeister: the type of conductor whose aim was to serve the music on the stand in front of him and only that with utter honesty and integrity. This meant no exaggerations of any kind, no pursuance of surface brilliance, and above all no impression that personality is being imposed on the music in any way. Far from being a dull way to make music I would support the view that, when imposed alongside detailed knowledge and real love of the scores, the results can be revelatory whilst perhaps not being the kind you would want to live with all of the time. Sobriety has its limitations and so it is the case here.
This mono Bavarian Radio archive recording of Bruckner's Ninth was made "live" in Munich in 1963 four years before Schuricht's death. It's a fine representation of his art in general and his approach to Bruckner in particular. The latter especially if you are more used to versions by less self-effacing interpreters such as Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Jochum or Celibidache with all of whom it is fascinating to compare Schuricht. Indeed it's hard to think of Bruckner conducting more the antithesis of those men. Even Klemperer's bleaker sound palette and almost obsessive stressing of structural integrity seems to set him apart from Schuricht's purity. However, I don't think this Schuricht Bruckner Ninth is as fine as the one he made in the studio with the Vienna Philharmonic for EMI. That one is better played and recorded but is still fundamentally the same interpretation. Not surprisingly for a conductor like Carl Schuricht, consistency was also a feature of his art. So the first movement is unfolded with an even-temper. There are no real shocks in store as there certainly are under Furtwängler from 1944, for example. Though I would draw your attention to the coda to the movement under Schuricht as that really does take fire, especially in context with what has gone before. Here is an example of how a strong overall strategic grasp of an entire movement brings dividends in that the interpreter can make key nodal points like this seem to stress themselves rather than have to accentuate them from outside which, as I have said, was against Schuricht's nature. Endearingly you might notice that Schuricht is inclined to speed up a little at climaxes but this was a trait of his generation and of interest in itself and even here the effect is handled with discretion and never interrupts the feeling of flow. Other than that there is beneath it all a consistency of overall tempo that helps further to unify a movement that can sometimes sprawl. Even Jascha Horenstein in his BBC Legends version (BBCL 4017-2 and reviewed by me elsewhere) is not immune in this respect, though he is much tighter in his earlier version on Vox (CDX2 5508). The second movement Scherzo is not lacking in power and forward momentum under Schuricht. I especially liked the lower brass punching out the machine-like rhythm in the main material, caught well by the microphones but not overwhelming the rest. Again other versions offer a blacker, even more relentless, vision but Schuricht is very convincing. The opening of the Adagio last movement is a long distance from the anguished cries of pain so many interpreters use here and might raise eyebrows. Once again Schuricht is the model of almost classical restraint here that then develops into a very sweet-natured delivery of Bruckner's last composition. However, just as with the coda to the first movement, the great dissonant climax of this movement is shattering, just as it should be, and it shows Schuricht knew perfectly well what Bruckner was doing here and in the rest of his final work.
The mastering engineer, Harald Huber, has done well with this recording. It sounds a lot better than some radio archive tapes I have heard on CD. Those who remaster archive material for commercial release are always at the mercy of the original with which they are presented. There are some drawbacks, of course. The mono sound has a limited dynamic range but little in the way of actual distortion. Also there is the acoustic of the Munich Herkulessaal, familiar to those who have heard recordings made there with this orchestra by Rafael Kubelik, making its presence felt in that it's a close sound balance that with this microphone placing brings out details in the fine woodwinds remarkably well. This becomes a significant plus in exposing some details you may not have been aware of before. The rest of the orchestra responds well to Schuricht's leadership whilst not being quite the equal of Vienna.
An interesting performance of Bruckner's final work from a conductor of "the old school."