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Hermann Abendroth – In Memoriam
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.7 in E major (1883) [61:09]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 Pathétique (1892) [48:37]
Suite No.3 Op.55 [17:42]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra (suite)/Hermann Abendroth
rec. live, 19 February 1956 (Bruckner); live, November 1950 (Tchaikovsky Symphony); live, March 1951 (Tchaikovsky Suite)
TAHRA TAH604-05 [61:09 + 67:08]



Tahra 114-115 contained a February 1956 performance of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony given by these forces; the exact dates were the sixteenth and seventeenth of the month. This is important because the performance of the Seventh in this two disc set is the one given two days later, at a concert in the Metropol Theater in Berlin, for which the earlier performances served, as Tahra puts it, as dress rehearsals. They also note – though I didn’t notice the join – that a patch was necessary in the finale of this public performance. It replaces a wobbly master take and has been taken from the earlier performances.
 
The concert performance is as persuasive as the earlier rehearsals. The sense of lyric flux is tremendous and retains its independence of vision. It adheres neither quite to Furtwängler’s overtly expressive 1949 Berlin statement – his best on disc – nor to, say, Knappertsbusch’s more considered gravity. It is, I think, saying something that Abendroth’s performance – never was his reputation as a “poor man’s Furtwängler” less apt than here – remains indelibly glowing and powerful in the memory. The accelerandi are never as quiveringly tense as they are with Furtwängler but the architectural cogency is intense. Abendroth moulds the melodic cantilever with extraordinary power; the weight of his string choirs is calibrated with perfect control. The Adagio unfolds with rubato-rich depth – a truly inspiring performance – and the Scherzo is gruffly tensile, and vividly exciting. The whole performance is like this.
 
The Tchaikovsky Pathétique is the earlier of the two surviving Abendroth performances – the other was given two years later with the Leipzig Radio Symphony.  The 1950 recording is by some considerable way the more impulsive, driven, and temperamental though the 1952 performance was in the main broader in tempo terms. Abendroth here is in luscious and extremely voluble form – contrasts are maximised, string melodies open out with oceanic depth, metrical pulse is often suspended at moments. It sounds like an exercise in pure indulgence but actually, when taken on its own terms, the symphony doesn’t splinter. It’s hardly a model of rectitude but those powerful brass climaxes do thrill as if in compensation and the surging legato, the gaunt tragic unfolding, summon up vistas of feeling. Alongside this torrential passion the Suite sounds positively cautious though it’s actually charmingly characterised. The sense of gravity from 7:00 onwards is also beautifully executed. Additionally this is the only known recording of Abendroth in the work.
 
The recorded sound throughout is pretty good for the vintage. Of course there are gauzy, unfocused moments but that will be no impediment to the admirer of this conductor. Good notes complete a splendid package, a worthy one.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 



 


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