Schubert sonatas

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Leo Borchard (1899-1945)
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

The Nutcracker – Extracts (1892)
Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture (1880)
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Oberon – Overture (1826)
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Stenka Razin – Poème Op.13 (1886)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Leo Borchard
Recorded 1934-35 (Nutcracker – commercial Telefunken) and radio broadcasts (remainder) dating from 1945
TAHRA TAH520 [73.34]


Tragedy stalks this disc. Leo Borchard was born of German parents in Moscow in 1899 and spent his early years there and in St Petersburg. In Germany he studied with Hermann Scherchen and Eduard Erdmann and became co-repetiteur for both Walter and Klemperer whilst earning the friendship of such as von Einem and Blacher. Moreover he was active in the resistance during the War, going under the code name Andrik Krassnow. He became part of the Kreisau circle and managed to pass information from Berlin to the Allies. His clandestine activities were clearly considerable, and such details as we possess – giving private conducting lessons to a Jewish student, meeting a Jewish document forger – demonstrate the kinds of (capital) risks he was running. After Berlin’s liberation he gave the first of twenty-two concerts he presented with the Berlin Philharmonic but on August 23rd 1945 he was shot dead by an American soldier as Borchard and his wife were being driven home after curfew.

Borchard recorded very little and in discographic terms he is known, if at all, almost by default. The reason is, in a double irony, that for a number of years it was believed that this performance of Stenka Razin had been conducted by Furtwängler with the Vienna Philharmonic. There are certainly powerful reasons to think it may be so – the freedom and power, the flexibility and melodic elasticity, the sense of almost improvisatory drama is reminiscent of the older man – and commandingly so. But Furtwängler never conducted Stenka Razin (though he may well have conducted the Concerto) and this is all Borchard. His affinities if anything deepen still further with Romeo and Juliet which is notably sombre and not at all exuberant, rising to a peak of introspective perception and visceral drama. He had earlier shown promise in his Tchaikovsky with the only commercial recording in Tahra’s disc – selections from the Nutcracker, recorded for Telefunken in 1934 - complete with a dapper, deadpan wit, albeit some is rather slow.

Collectors have looked forward to this release for some time and with some relish. The immediate post-war tapes have survived in good sound and the pre-war set was well recorded in the first place. I think we can reasonably say that, but for that cruel end, Borchard would have taken a prestigious place in the reclamation and regeneration of post-War Germany. Tahra show us what remains – and what we have lost.

Jonathan Woolf

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