Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:


Symphony No.1 in D major

Dresdner Philharmonie/Herbert Kegel
(Recorded in 1979)
BERLIN CLASSICS 0090382BC [55.43]

Herbert Kegel's distinguished career took place almost entirely behind the Iron Curtain in his native East Germany. He was never as well known in the West as his Leipzig colleague, Kurt Masur, for example. He shared with Masur an independence of mind from the prevailing régime by often performing contemporary works that were under threat of ban by the authorities. Posts in Leipzig and then Dresden gave him the opportunity to make recordings for the East German labels but most of these were only fitfully available in the West. His death in 1990, the year after the Berlin Wall came down, must have robbed him of a more international career in the years that followed, which was a great pity. However the list of recordings by him that Berlin Classics have now released and which are listed in the liner booklet with this recording remind us of his range with its leaning towards 20th century works. Berg's "Wozzek", Britten's War Requiem, Schoenberg's "Moses and Aron", and works by Dessau and Penderecki are all now available. But there are also works by Berlioz and Gounod as counterbalance.

Then there is this fine recording of Mahler's First Symphony where the first movement receives a very lively and lyrical account with a good amount of expressive rubato that is always appropriate, never cloying or mannered. Kegel has a very persuasive way with the main "Wayfarer" theme especially and puts a real spring into the steps of the rhythms. I also liked the unashamed way he gets the strings to swoop in the portamenti asked for or expected. It is surprising how many conductors shy away from this. In fact the string playing throughout this recording is of a very high quality and note that this is the Dresden Philharmonic not the more famous Staatskapelle, but they need not fear any comparison. I also admired the way Kegel gradually increases speed as the end of the movement approaches, winding up a good momentum to carry us to the end. The second movement has a surprise at the very start in that Kegel introduces an empathic and unmarked accent into the dance rhythm I have never heard done before. It could even become annoying on repeated hearings but there's no doubt it's distinctive and the orchestra appears behind Kegel all the way with those string slides again apparent later on. The overall tempo for the scherzo is steady and ungainly and I find this more persuasive than some of the more impatient interpreters we sometimes hear. The vibrato on the horn opening the trio tells us we are east of the Iron Curtain but it's not too troublesome. East German orchestras never quite went to the extremes of their Soviet colleagues. The trio itself is very suave and knowing and I found myself smiling all the way through as it seems as if Kegel might even be sending the music up. What an engaging guide to this work Kegel is proving. When the main scherzo returns that added accent I noted the first time round has gone, which is interesting to say the least.

Reedy and oily is the best description for the double bass solo in the third movement and Kegel certainly does little to smooth out the contours of the opening as some can. You can hear the harp tolling too, which is not always the case. I was also surprised and delighted to hear one of the best evocations of the Klezmer band passages from an East German orchestra, but that is what we have here - the sharp cymbals and the way Kegel suddenly accelerates the tempo every time the band intervenes helps immeasurably. When the funeral march resumes after the soft "Wayfarer" quotation at the heart Kegel surpasses himself with the band interjections and a feeling of winding down to the end. The final solo from that bassoon is very effective before the storms that follow in the last movement. After these have subsided, I'm always impressed to hear a conductor keep the bridge passage that leads into the big tune in tempo, as Mahler requests. The big tune itself finds a deeply passionate treatment that stays within the bounds of good taste with again the distinguished string playing already noticed. In terms of execution and virtuosity this orchestra does lack the whipcrack style of some of their more famous rivals. This movement also exposes a lack of real tone in the brass section that bray a little when playing full out and it is here the recording balance, though natural and open in a quite large church acoustic, shows its analogue origin. But the playing from all departments is committed, idiomatic and most full of Mahlerian colour. Not least in the emotional core of the whole work where Mahler brings back the birdcalls and the morning mood of the opening prior to the great peroration at the close. No one could fail to be moved by Kegel's response here. The coda itself is quite fast and some will find that a minus. I suppose I do too, but in the context of such a lively and interesting recording I can forgive Kegel for driving to the end with such gusto. In concert this would have raised the roof which is what Mahler was trying to do after all.

A fine performance with much to enjoy. Not quite top-flight for reasons of orchestral execution, recording and that quirky treatment of the scherzo opening, but worth investigating.

Tony Duggan

Visit Tony Duggan's Mahler Website


EDEL/Berlin Classics discs CANNOT yet be ordered directly from the website. However it is probably worth browsing anyway:

You can try:-

EDEL affiliates in UK and USA:

edel UK ltd.
12, Oval Road
NW1 7DH London
phone: 0044 207 48 24 848
fax: 0044 207 48 24 846

edel America Records, Inc.
1790 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10019
phone: 001 212 5419700
fax: 001 212 6648391

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: