is not the composer invariably to receive the Big Box treatment
but here is one courtesy of a compilation of orchestral works
from Berlin Classics. Konwitschny should rouse some interest – and
also alert one as to the relative age of some of the recordings – but
with Suitner, Blomstedt and Herbig aboard, alongside Bongartz
and Rögner, one is assured of at least very serviceable readings
and at best top class ones. There are plenty of single discs
of much of this repertoire around but Berlin Classics’ seven-disc
set comes at a very tempting price.
sounds a little
like Elgar in heraldic mood in the Tempo di Marcia
elsewhere we meet Reger the lyricist whose instrumentation
is light, apt and supportive (contrast with the occasional
purgatory of other works). Pierrot and Pierrette
a delight with its deft solo for cello and even if we get
some Johann Straussisms in the Waltz
this is still
a charmingly elegant and warmly (if anything under-) scored
work. Concerto in the Old Style
dates from the halcyon
days of 1912. The winds are pert, the air is full of neo-classicism,
the soloists have little capricious or extrovert to do
and the slow movement is the high point. This is a genuinely
but almost anti-modernist in its outlook
with a concerto grosso role for Heinz Schunk and Karl Suske.
The theme for the Beethoven Variations
from the Bagatelles
Op.119 No.11. It’s expertly
laid out but leaves no real impression – even the six minute
which sounds, in the context, academic
to the point of parody - though that seems unlikely.
are in Konwitschny’s very able hands. There’s
wonderful élan to the Leipzig string playing as there is
real delicacy and wind tracery in the second variation.
The brass are resplendent but never selfish in the vivace
of the fourth variation and the rhythm is energising indeed
in the tenth. The concluding Fugue
is here a real
winner and this performance does it justice – ten minutes
of expertly laid out fugal writing exceptionally well played
by the Leipzig forces. If you’re partial at all to the
old Keilberth recording you will like this one.
Hiller to the Mozart Variations,
which uses variations
on the Piano Sonata K331. Lissom and grand these are genuinely
enjoyable and the very opposite of forbidding. Listen to
the warmth of the horns in the Seventh Variation or the Dresden
players’ curdly wind playing throughout. Coupled with it
is rather stronger fare, the four Böcklin Tone Poems
once again with Bongartz and the Dresden Staatskapelle. To
be blunt this, as a performance, can’t really measure up
to the classic 1967 Schmitt-Isserstedt though it does have
virtues of its own. There’s a lovely violin solo in the first
of the poems as well as some warmly expressive playing all
round. The springy scherzo – At Play In The Waves
suffused with brass colour whereas the slow movement (The
Isle of the Dead
) is suitably solemn and replete with
ominous percussion rolls and a desolate, highly effective
narrative colour. Only the concluding Bacchanalia
a let-down, a rather leaden affair that other performances
have given greater verve.
is a clotted, Brahmsian work and far too long at fifty minutes
for its own musical good. The little rustic motifs that
lighten the opening do, it’s true, ease the heaviness but
the general density is exemplified by the gauntly Teutonic Scherzo
attempts at the balletic are stymied by galumphing basses. An
is a twelve-minute setting for alto
and orchestra and has its fair share of (Richard) Straussisms
and we also get a similarly lengthy Hymnus der liebe
baritone or alto (here the latter), which is suffused with
Tristan and fin-de-siècle despair.
four gives us the Violin Concerto
played by Manfred
Scherzer, a very fine player on this showing. He also has
plenty of stamina as its fifty-seven minute length makes
the Elgar look positively Lilliputian. This is the concerto
that Adolf Busch, famously, re-orchestrated later in life
and if Busch, a great advocate of Reger’s, had his doubts
then so should we. The concerto is over-stated and over-orchestrated
certainly but it has its moments. There are Brahmsian traits
throughout, some Sibelian passagework from 12.45 in the first
movement and Wagnerian shadings in the central movement.
Songful and lyric it gives plenty of opportunities to the
soloist, especially in the big first movement cadenza - where
Scherzer’s lower strings don’t quite sing out optimally.
The main problems are those of prolixity, lack of orchestral
continuity and a prose-poem effect in the slow movement.
The finale harks to Brahms and through him to Beethoven.
occupies disc six. This was for a long time
the property of Busch’s son-in-law, Rudolf Serkin, insofar
as it was anyone’s. His CBS recording of it was really
the only way one could hear it. The strings here are – or
as recorded are – a touch glassy but that’s not too much
of a deterrent. The orchestration is superior to that of
the Violin Concerto and the material is more biting and
instantly memorable. The rhythmic attaca
first movement is engaging, even if most of it is courtesy
of Brahms. The central movement has warmth and a sense
of space, a delicate kind of gravity – it’s much more concise
and practical than the Violin Concerto in this respect – and
the finale exudes a rude and rather clod-hopping vitality,
very attractively conveyed by Amadeus Webersinke.
final disc brings us the Symphonic Prologue for a Tragedy.
should note that this Radio-Symphony Orchestra Berlin/Rögner
recording is of the shortened version (Albrecht for instance
has recorded the full version). Brooding, driving, eminently
High Romantic, in part quite stolid, but passionately affirmative
in its ending, this makes for a powerful disc-opener, even
if it is the abridged version. Then there’s the Romantic
which dates from 1912, four years after the Symphonic
Prologue. This is by turns effulgent and sprightly, a warm
and balmy piece that receives a finely nuanced reading from
Rögner and his Berlin forces. If you’re unfamiliar with much
of Reger you’d do worse than to start here – the orchestration
is subtle, the evocative sound-world impressive, the studied
academic side of things largely absent.
dedication of the performances is palpable. True, not everything
is at the top of the pile but the alternative is to scrabble
around for individual discs. This boxed set gives you a permanently
useful collection, well notated and often splendidly recorded.
Recording quality does vary across the years but is never
less than acceptable – often much more so than that. In short,
this is a definite case of value for money.
see also review by Rob Barnett