> Otmar Suitner - 80th Anniversary Special Edition [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Eightieth Anniversary Special Edition

WEBER Overtures
TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade for Strings
Robert VOLKMANN Serenade No. 2 for strings
DVOŘÁK Symphonies 4 and 5
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 5
Hugo WOLF Penthesilea - symphonic poem
Hans PFITZNER Music for Käthchen von Heilbronn
Richard STRAUSS Fantasy - Die Frau ohne Schatten
Metamorphosen for 23 strings

Paul HINDEMITH Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber
MOZART Concert arias

Eine Balletsuite
Konzert im alten stil
Beethoven Variations

Engelbert HUMPERDINCK Hänsel und Gretel
Richard STRAUSS Salome
Juliane Koren; Frank Lienert (Pfitzner)
Sylvia Geszty (Mozart)
Karl Suske; Heinz Schunk (Reger Konzert)
Renate Hoff; Renate Krahmer; Gisela Schröter; Ingeborg Springer; Peter Schreier; Theo Adam (Humperdinck)
Christel Golz; Siw Ericsdottir; Friedericke Apelt; Eva Fleischer; Helmut Melchert; Heinz Hoppe; Harald Neukirch; Helmut Goldmann; Guntfried Speck; Hans-Joachim Rotzsch; Johannes Kemter; Ernst Gutstein; Günther Leib; Theo Adam; Rainer Lüdeke; Helmut Eyle; Fred Teschler (Salome)
Staatskapelle Dresden
Staatskapelle Berlin
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orkester Leipzig
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orkester Berlin
rec 1964-1990 ADD

[11CDs: 41.19+44.03+75.25+69.33+68.58+45.19+47.39+63.59+63.00+53.37+40.41]

Edel stand as the successors in title to the Berlin Classics and Eterna DDR catalogues. Their sales pitch seems to be fairly muted outside Germany. Going by recent experience, within Germany, they are much more prominent especially with their budget Corona line. As far as I can see much of their focus is on back catalogue. A small flood of major multiple CD sets for Konwitschny, Kegel, Sanderling and now Suitner stands as evidence of this emphasis.

Some people in the USA have had trouble in getting hold of Edel product and certainly Berlin Classics sets are not much in evidence in even the larger UK branches of HMV and Tower. Of course this may be a reflection of the carry-over of old style East-West bias. Suitner and Kegel have been seen as primarily domestic conductors with no international standing. The situation for both conductors was very different in Japan. From the mid-1980s onwards both Kegel and Suitner conducted the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Suitner was honorary conductor of the NHKSO. Given the Japanese connection it is no surprise to learn that many of his recordings were issued by Denon. Other licensees included Eurodisc and Teldec.

Suitner was born at Innsbruck in the Tyrol in 1922. His mother was Italian; his father Tyrolean. He studied piano at the Salzburg Mozarteum from 1941 to 1943 and conducting with Clemens Krauss. He debuted as a conductor at the Innsbruck Theatre in 1942 and was appointed to a series of conducting positions at Remscheid (1952), Ludwigshaven (1957), Dresden (1960), Berlin Staatsoper - Unter den Linden (1964-71, 1973-1990). Apart from his Tokyo fixtures (117 concerts by the end of his conductorship) he also worked with Wieland Wagner at Bayreuth conducting Der Fliegende Holländer (1965) and The Ring (1966 and 1967). In 1977 he succeeded to the Chair of the College of Music and Performing Arts, a position previously held by Hans Swarowsky, remaining there until 1988. He ceased conducting in the early 1990s with the onset of a serious illness. He was eighty on 16 May 2002 and Classical Music on the Web extends congratulations to him.

Now to the specifics of this set …

The five Weber overtures (Staatskapelle Berlin, 1974) are not the most obvious of choices. Euryanthe is omitted. Otherwise we have Oberon, Jubel (rather bombastic), Preziosa, Peter Schmoll and Beherrscher der Geister (Rossinian). The typical contrast of gravitas and high spirits is in full evidence but the Berlin orchestra is not the equal of the Dresden Staatskapelle (who appear on several of the discs) and this shows in smallish details around coordination and precision of intonation. There is also some ferocity in the string tone e.g. at 2.14 in Beherrscher.

His Tchaikovsky Serenade has exhilarating bustle and vigour and a good stereo spread that blesses the many antiphonal effects. This is an ardent performance which is not short on elegance in the Valse. The recording depth is extremely satisfying as a sampling of the pizzicato at 5.03 (in the allegro con spirito) will show. The Volkmann Serenade is a much rarer item and is worth hearing for its stately qualities and autumnal spriteliness. There is a dashing molto vivace and a good waltz that reminded me of Prokofiev in the Classical Symphony. The finale is a Marsch. Volkmann has an individual voice which is worth hearing. CPO offer the chance to hear much more of his music. The Staatskapelle Dresden are a world class ensemble and it shows. Great recording from 1962.

With the same Berlin orchestra Suitner recorded the complete Dvořák symphonies for a Berlin Classics cycle between 1975 and 1981. The Fourth is not the most exciting of the nine but it goes well enough here. The scherzo is rather four-square but the allegro con brio goes with a swing and a sigh if it does not avoid the dangers of repetition. We should not look for the satisfactions of the last three symphonies in this work. There are lower key delights but they are definitely lower key. The Fifth and the Sixth are much better and stand at the gateway between the immaturely formed (and imagined) early symphonies and the perfection of the folk dramas of the last three. Suitner is a sensitive director and he has no trouble with accepting the Beethovenian episode in the allegro molto (rather enchained to the Seventh Symphony).

The DDD recording in the set is of Bruckner 5. This comes from 1990 and the slipcase indicates a musical assistant named Joachim Freyer. Was this a sign of the conductor's failing health? Hearing the Fifth in concert was one of my earliest experiences. Volker Wangenheim conducted the Bournemouth orchestra. I later heard the same team in the Eighth Symphony and Fourth conducted by Paavo Berglund. This Suitner version represent a decent middle range interpretation - satisfying in its own right without being at all special when set against say Günter Wand on BMG.

Wolf's Penthesilea is in three movements. 1. Aufbruch der Amazonen nach Troja; 2. Der Traum Penthesileas vom Rosenfest; 3. Kämpfe, Leidenschaften, Wahnsinn, Vernichtung. The whole 30 minute tone poem (recorded previously by Otto Gerdes on DG) operates at the ramshackle and bombastic level of Smetana's (non-Ma Vlast) tone poems somewhat modernised. It is interesting to hear what Wolf made of such an ambitious project but the results pass muster as pleasant rather than transfixing.

Pfitzner's incidental music to Heinrich Kleist's Käthchen von Heilbronn is much more promising. The Prelude to Act 3 is placed first. This music is a cut or five above the Wolf and much more successful as a piece of music: German late-romanticism written away from the ‘disturbing’ winds of Zemlinsky's and Schrecker's expressionistic saturation. The Melodram movement has the lovers speaking over the music. Juliane Koren plays Käthchen and Frank Lienert takes the role of Ritter vom Strahl. The voices are completely credible in their ecstatic dialogue and the music floats and radiates away in the background. The suite ends with the Ouverture at 12.48 running together moments of romantic fanfarery, with Weberian scherzos and lush string interludes. The music is predominantly soft-focus romantic.

Lastly on disc 5 comes Strauss's Fantasy for Large Orchestra - Die Frau ohne Schatten Op. 65. This plays for 20.24. It stands tall in the company of its disc-mates with its gruff call to arms and its shining string choirs and French horn huzzas at 18.02. It operates largely at the level of a contented scena for strings.

Another short disc next: but this time back to the Dresden Staatskapelle. Recordings here were made in 1969 and 1966. The Hindemith Weber Metamorphoses are delightful allowing for bluff and bluster in the allegro. The Turandot movement works very well as do the wistful Andantino and the very precisely coordinated Marsch. This is a good version if giving way to the Decca-Abbado version on Eloquence. Then comes the Strauss Metamorphosen for Twenty-Three solo strings. This is suitably soloistic and holds high the elegiac element that glowered down over the ruins of the Third Reich. I rather enjoyed Horenstein's version (once available on Unicorn) but this one is never less than warm.

This IS a very diverse set for disc 7 is an anthology of Mozart arias from the coloratura soprano Sylvia Geszty. She is accompanied by the Dresden orchestra. These were recorded in 1970 and while Geszty sounds clear and true the orchestra are rather burred and raw. Geszty is up for operatic high jinks as can be heard in the No, No, che non capace. This is an alternative to the high crystal gymnastics of the Queen of the Night aria. In this she is brightest of stars but her failing is a tendency to sing all at the same volume level.

The arias are: Mia speranza adorata!; Ah, non sai, qual pena sia el doverti; Non curo l'affeto, Fra cento affanni; A Berenice; Sol nascente; Ma, che vi fece, o stelle; Sperai vivino il lido; No, no, che non sei capace.

The Reger disc bullies off with sturdy and surprisingly sensitive readings of Eine Ballettsuite, Konzert im alten stil and the Beethoven Variations. These are excellent readings in solid 1970 sound with plenty of refinement.

Also from 1970 comes the Hänsel and Gretel highlights disc with the Dresden Staatskapelle. All your favourites are here. Do you need more, I wonder? There are 22 tracks in all including the prelude and Hexenritt. Great use of stereo throughout. A charmer for grown-ups.

The cast is Peter: Theo Adam (bass); Gertrud: Gisela Schröter (mz); Hansel: Ingeborg Springer (con); Gretel: Renate Hoff (sop); Witch: Peter Schreier (ten); Sandman: Renate Krahmer (sop).

Suitner's Salome goes well enough in this company sounding both atmospheric and alert if occasionally rather raw. Josef Herrmann (Jokanaan) registers strongly; Suitner’s Salome adequately but less strongly.

The orientation of this set is just as distinctive as the Kegel box. While the Kegel majored on the twentieth century masters with a liberal sprinkling of ex-DDR composers, Suitner concentrates on the classics. Suitner did have another side (in fact several). His discography includes the Symphony by Ernst Herman Meyer (a friend and collaborator with Alan Bush) and also Meyer's Violin Concerto (played by Oistrakh). Also on this side we have the opera Einstein by Paul Dessau and Eisler's Klingende Dokumente II. Issued separately is a box of the later Mozart symphonies.

This is a very diverse set (with a wispy little introductory booklet) and you will struggle in vain if you have to construct a theme other than ‘some of Herr Suitner’s recordings’. Its strengths lie in its diversity. For this listener the standout recordings are: the Tchaikovsky and Volkmann Serenades; Hänsel and Gretel; the Reger, Weber and the Pfitzner.

Rob Barnett


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