Bravo to EMI for putting
together such a fascinating twofer.
I well remember my first acquaintance
with Weingartner’s recordings (an HMV
RLS release, I believe, a boxed set
with a very lurid green cover). This
set acts as a timely reminder of Weingartner’s
Felix Weingartner was
born in 1863, studying in Graz and then
Leipzig (with Reinecke). He succeeded
Mahler at the Vienna Opera (only for
three years), but held his ties with
the Vienna Philharmonic until 1927.
He met Wagner (fleetingly). Weingartner
died in Winterthur in 1942.
Weingartner was much
associated with Beethoven (even publishing
a book, ‘On Conducting and On the Performance
of Beethoven’s Symphonies’) so it is
entirely apt that the set begins with
two works by the Master. Prometheus
opens in a perhaps (these days) weighty
(nay, portentous) fashion – yet how
this contrasts effectively with the
scampering violins of the main body
of the Overture! Perhaps the fortes
could have a touch more vim, but this
remains an arresting reading. Christopher
Dyment’s annotations tell us that this
take has only previously been available
in Japan – we should be grateful to
be able to hear it.
Beethoven’s Second Symphony as if he
had never heard any argument against
it being one of the greatest of that
composer’s symphonic canon. There is
an energy to the Adagio molto introduction
that is lacking (in this measure, at
least) in every single other account
I have ever heard, an energy that spills
over unstoppably into the Allegro con
brio, making the contrasting, ‘wind-band
march’ arpeggios all the more effective.
The first movement leaves the listener
breathless – yet this is breathless
with admiration, rather than short-windedness.
Occasionally one feels that if this
had been with the Vienna Philharmonic
such moments as a certain blurring of
cellos and basses at 6’57 would not
have occurred, but this remains an involving
experience. Some may find the Larghetto
a little unyielding (there is something
of a 3/8 March about it) – no such caveats
about the Scherzo, which dances along.
More, Weingartner brings out the modernism
of Beethoven’s juxtapositions, emphasising
the freshness of invention. The occasional
scrappiness in the finale is more than
adequately compensated for by the orchestra’s
way with trills, which positively buzz
The Berlioz Marche
troyenne works quite well. It just
sounds as if Weingartner is trying to
impose hoch-Deutsch ideals on
music with a fundamentally Gallic heart.
The Weber (Aufforderung zum Tanz)
begins with a simply superb cello solo
(LPO this time). Some of the main body
of the work tends towards the scrappy,
but there is plenty of spirit in evidence.
Finally on the first
disc comes a Brahms Third from 1938
with the LPO. Weingartner, it should
be remembered, heard Brahms himself
conduct the Third Symphony in Leipzig
and the Fourth in Hamburg in 1888. The
composer was impressed by Weingartner’s
handling of his Second (which Brahms
heard in Vienna in 1896). It is perhaps
surprising to note that the first theme
does not quite explode out of the initial
chords – it is more of an organic growth
from them. Weingartner’s grasp of the
score is sure and he lets some wonderful,
tripping moments shine through, contrasting
and juxtaposing them with real Brahmsian
warmth (especially from the strings).
Wind tuning is not always completely
The intermittent glow
of the first movement grows to a warming
hearth-fire in the second and third.
The finale is notable mainly for a supreme
sense of subdued urgency. Everything
has a point, nothing ever ‘sags’ (as
it can so easily do in a lesser conductor’s
Mozart’s Symphony No.
39 opens the second disc. Weingartner
himself referred to the fact that ‘Olympian
grandeur streams through the majestic
introduction’ and there is indeed a
seeming inevitability about the arrival
of the Allegro. The strength of this
Allegro together with much excitement
is tempered by an aura of gentilité
(in this sense it reminded me of Giulini).
The care lavished on the Andante con
moto is quite remarkable (strings are
preternaturally together), while the
Menuetto has a Trio fully evocative
of Bavarian Lederhosen. The finale bristles
with energy – the dark colourings along
the way remind the listener that this
is very much a multi-faceted work.
But it is with Wagner
that things get really interesting.
Rienzi is nowadays rarely played,
yet it has its attractions (even if
most of them are decidedly Weberesque).
Weingartner’s belief that this is first-rate
music, not second-rate Wagner is obvious
throughout the performance, though –
and how the violins play their rather
manic accompaniment figure around the
three-minute mark. Siegfried-Idyll
is taken at a healthy Andante, alas
just too fast to convey true bliss.
There is some pitch ‘wow’ at around
Weingartner met Liszt
in 1882, joining his circle in the years
1883-86. Frederic Lamond found Weingartner
unrivalled in his interpretation of
Liszt’s music, and the two works here
give no cause for doubt. Les Préludes
unfolds with a real sense of drama.
The opening exudes a real sense of mystery.
Never once does the music sound hackneyed
(and it can, in lesser hands). The LSO
seems to be on top form, as the depth
of the string sound comes faithfully
through the years (it was recorded in
February 1940). There is a silken delicacy
to strings and harp (around 8’45) and,
later (11’20) magnificent warmth from
the cellos. Weingartner’s conception
seems unshakeably right.
From the same sessions
on the same day comes Das Tanz in
der Dorfschenke (the orchestral
version of the First Mephisto Waltz).
Most recently I heard this live with
the Budapest Festival Orchestra under
Iván Fischer (review)
. On that occasion I voiced doubts as
to the arrangement, referring to the
edge being rubbed off the percussive
original. Weingartner has no qualms
– this is a whirling dervish of a performance,
the basses of the opening positively
primal. This really sounds like the
Devil’s music, including the more seductive
sections where suspensions really ache.
Portamento is there, but always used
to expressive ends. The extreme excitement
of the work’s close comes as no surprise,
yet it is an apt end to a superlative
twofer. If you buy only one set of the
‘Great Conductors of the 20th
Century’ series, may I humbly suggest
this should be it.
Conductors of the 20th Century