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Carl Schuricht
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Tragic Overture op.81 (1880) [14:15]*
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.A. Hiller op.100 (1907) [40:17]*
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Grosse Fuge in B flat major op.133 (1826) [18:56]**
London Symphony Orchestra*, New Philharmonia Orchestra**/Carl Schuricht*, Sir Adrian Boult**
rec. 31 January 1964, Hornsey Town Hall, London*, 19 August 1968, Royal Albert Hall, London, live**
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4213-2 [73:55]


I have always had fond memories of the name of Carl Schuricht as the conductor from whom I learnt “Fingal’s Cave” – on an EP in the school music room. Later he became the conductor of what remains a favourite record of mine – his Bruckner 9, which I had on a Classics for Pleasure LP. More recently interest in his art has increased. I found plenty to enjoy in a coupling of Brahms 2 and Strauss’s “Domestic Symphony” which I reviewed a few years ago. I say all this because my reactions here are fairly negative and I wish to show that I came to the disc, if anything, prejudiced in his favour.

In 1964 Schuricht came to London for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the LSO. At the same time the BBC booked him and the orchestra to record – without an audience – the two works we have here. The recording is good enough for the date.

At 14:15 Schuricht’s “Tragic Overture” is not only a long way from the urgency of Klemperer (12:58) but even exceeds the breadth of Ančerl (13:42) who gives the most powerfully concentrated performance known to me. But with these conductors, and other traversals such as Boult or Kempe, it is possible to speak of “their” tempi. Schuricht, really, just doesn’t have one. After an energetic, if beefy, opening, the tempo simply drops and drops. Here and there it picks up but all too often it gets merely becalmed. With Furtwängler the approach might have worked, maybe with Schuricht too a few years earlier. He was then 84 and conducted his last concert the following year. He clearly hasn’t got the attention of the orchestra, with ragged playing just about everywhere and horn bloopers more the rule than the exception. It’s hard to believe that the ropy provincial band that seems to be playing here was making such memorable recordings with Monteux not long before, and shortly afterwards embarked on the orchestrally sizzling Dvořák cycle with Kertesz. But these names, with Previn and Abbado to come, remind us that the LSO has never been particularly close to the older Kapellmeister tradition, This emerged again when Jochum was engaged to record a Beethoven cycle with them, to the increasing disenchantment of both parties and Jochum’s irritated declaration that “they are not a Beethoven orchestra”. This in turn angered their then principal conductor Abbado, and in fact they were an excellent orchestra for his type of Beethoven.

Under the circumstances the fact that Schuricht had been a pupil of Reger makes the present offering doubtfully definitive. It is to be hoped that some European radio station has an alternative Hiller Variations set down a bit earlier. This one lumbers, playing into the old prejudice that Reger himself wrote with a heavy hand. Sometimes the performance seems to be picking up, but then comes another blooper and one’s heart sinks. The penultimate variation actually goes rather well. The final fugue is quite impressive, but loud things usually are impressive if they’re noisy enough and more or less together. A pity.

Boult’s “Grosse Fuge” is not overwhelming in its initial attack but grows in strength and authority. Well before the half-way mark Boult is achieving playing of the utmost conviction and his structural command is well in evidence. The recording is a little strange, rather diffuse and with a sort of metallic sheen. The audience makes itself felt at the beginning but Boult soon gets their attention.

Recently I said that Klemperer seemed “born to conduct this work”. Boult is mighty impressive too. The main difference is that Klemperer takes the contrasting, more legato material faster, giving it a parenthetical feeling. This enables him to present the structure as a seamless flow. His timing is 16:31. Boult gives this material more space, presenting a structure which, rather than a seamless flow, consists of the alternation, and eventual conciliation, of the different ideas. Just for curiosity I got out an off-the-air version under Hindemith (Rome 1962). He goes even further down this road, with the contrasting material going at about half Klemperer’s speed. His timing is 21:35. Rather to my surprise I find I prefer this to either of the others. The structure does not suffer and the slower sections achieve their full sublimity. The Rome orchestra acquits itself at least as well as the NPO. Maybe Arts Archive should take a look at RAI’s Hindemith recordings.

The Klemperer is an essential recording, but it comes with some Mozart and Handel that represent the gruffer side of his art. The Boult is a valuable addition to his discography, but look what it comes saddled with. Couldn’t BBC Legends re-couple it with some more Boult?

Christopher Howell 




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