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Gerhard Taschner. The Legendary Virtuoso
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Chaconne from Partita No 2 BWV 1004
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)

Violin Sonata in G minor Devil’s Trill
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Zigeunerweisen Op 20 (1878)
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Violin Sonata in A (1886)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Sonata No 3 in D minor Op 108 (1886-88)
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)

Violin Concerto in D minor (1940)
Gerhard Taschner (violin)
Walter Gieseking (piano)
Herbert Giesen (piano) in Tartini
Michael Raucheisen (piano) in Sarasate
RSO Berlin/Arthur Rother
Radio broadcast recordings 1943-47
TAHRA 350-51 [2 CDs 120.47]


Interest in Gerhard Taschner has grown in recent years. Born in Jagerndorf in 1922 his early training was fascinating – early studies with his grandfather were followed by two years with Hubay in Budapest (from 1930-32) and then time in Vienna with Huberman. He’d already given his debut in Prague in 1929 as a wunderkind seven year old playing a Mozart Concerto. In 1932 at the ripe old age of ten he gave a full-scale standard prodigy trio of Concertos assisted by a doubtless wary Felix Weingartner and the Vienna Symphony. Unusually peripatetic he went briefly to America to chance his arm but returned to Germany and thence to Brno where he took a position at the second desk in the Theatre Orchestra. Here, aged seventeen, he was heard by Herman Abendroth who was duly impressed and later on by Furtwängler who encouraged him to stay in Berlin. During the War it was Taschner who along with Siegfried Borries (the Philharmonic’s previous leader) and Erich Rohn provided the leader-soloists to promote the concerto literature – supporting such acknowledged stars as Georg Kulenkampff. Taschner had some significant successes during these years, not least in the dedication of Fortner’s Concerto but in later years he turned more to teaching, chamber music and jury serving. He formed duos with Gieseking and Edith Fernadi and was a member of the Taschner-Hoelscher-Gieseking trio. He died prematurely in 1976 at the age of fifty-four.

As Tahra’s notes suggest Taschner has suffered because he wasn’t signed to a major recording label. Enough recorded evidence of his playing does exist however via German radio broadcast recordings (100 are said to exist though others have been destroyed over the years). A couple of the items on this slimline double – the Chaconne and Zigeunerweisen - were part of the broadcast recordings looted by the Russians at the end of the War and only returned in March 1991. Let’s hope that Taschner’s broadcasts of the Tchaikovsky, Symphonie Espagnol and the Bartók Sonata do turn up.

What we have here in this attractively designed set is a collection of radio recordings dating from 1943-47. The sound throughout is good; no real allowances need be made bar minor incidental problems and even then it is of no concern to the specialist. The Chaconne opens the set from 1943 (it was his calling card to Furtwängler). The recorded ambience is chilly and there is consequently no bloom to the sound. Taschner is sometimes idiosyncratic in matters of phraseology with some brusqueness in the line at a fairly slow tempo. It strikes me as the performance of a sober and serious young man. Transitions are not ideally smooth and there is a lack of projection. A resinous intensity is reserved for moments of climactic phrasal power or expressive heightening. This is the earliest performance here and is followed by the Devil’s Trill sonata, a recording made with Herbert Giesen. His vibrato is hardly opulent but it is varied with skill though his trill not of the electric variety. There are not too many slides either. He employs some expressive romanticized phraseology early on but some self-consciously heavy and emphatic playing intrudes somewhat later. Taschner’s intense concentration can sometimes come adrift as just before the cadenza where there is a little intonational buckle but Giesen ends with a florid little flourish.

It’s once more unfortunate that the recording catches something of the coldness in Taschner’s tone in Zigeunerweisen – nice cantilena though with expressive finger changes (and intonational slips along the way in the heat of the moment). The lack of tonal opulence and a degree of rhythmic rectitude ultimately downplays the abandon though. Taschner is joined by Walter Gieseking for the Franck Sonata, one of the trickier in the repertoire. Occasionally Gieseking’s piano sounds clangy and Taschner sounds rather more sinewy in the first movement than he does elsewhere – the chewier tone he cultivates in the lower strings contrasts forcibly with the metallic E string – which can be inclined to be shrill. Still there is much to admire here, from the expressivo playing in the third movement and the sense of ensemble with Gieseking to the linearity of their conception and execution of it.

The second disc consists of Brahms and Khachaturian. The Brahms Sonata is intriguing. Taschner employs quite a lot of portamenti and a degree of elasticity in the line in the Allegro first movement – his rubati are strong and the sense of impeding and onrushing is pervasive. It’s often quite abrupt playing as well. His vibrato is not fast in the second, slow movement – and equally there is no great depth of tone to pour over the music like a sauce. He employs shades of colour but not opulence and sometimes could do with more vibrato usage. He does however certainly employ genuine diminuendi and a huge luftpause in the course of a movement that in their hands certainly takes a leisurely route. The brief scherzo-like movement is engagingly done but in the finale Taschner seems to come under strain (was he tiring?) with a couple of split notes. He continues to lack optimum vibrancy in the higher positions and there is some gabble at the end of the work (mainly from Gieseking). An example of Taschner the Concerto soloist comes in the form of the Khachaturian Concerto with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conduced by the veteran Arthur Rother. He was one of the few German violinists to evince much enthusiasm for Slavic and Nordic works; the Hanseatic Kulenkampff was always drawn to them but Busch spurned them. Taschner is quite sleek and quick spicing his playing with little inflective devices to keep the line bristling with aural interest. His bowing is good, the first movement cadenza well-negotiated, if occasionally he can be a little "scratchy." He is sensitive in the Andante sostenuto however – reducing bow weight with sensitivity – and still employing some delightful portamenti and imparting some colour to his playing.

This is an attractive set of two discs with a useful booklet note filled with vintage photographs and drawings of the violinist. If on the evidence of the works presented here Taschner ranks somewhat below the Legendary Virtuoso of Tahra’s promotion he is still a most worthy subjective for disinterment, especially when done as well as it has been here.

Jonathan Woolf

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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