Largely forgotten East German conductor Heinz Rögner (1929-2001)
does not even manage to achieve an entry among his 300+ peers
who were included in David Patmore’s Naxos CD/book package The
A-Z of Conductors. (Note: he does appear in the encyclopaedic
Conductors on Record by John L Holmes, 1982. Ed.)
low profile is in spite of the fact that, for twenty years from
1973, he had headed the prestigious Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester
Berlin, a band that has, in its many incarnations over the years,
included as principal conductors such respected figures as Jochum,
Celibidache, Abendroth and Frühbeck de Burgos. Rögner was also
closely associated with the Berlin State Opera and, outside
East Germany, with Tokyo’s Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra.
a quick Google search uncovers a very impressive and wide-ranging
Rögner discography – mainly on the Berlin Classics label – and
I am very grateful to its expert compiler Satoshi Kon’no who
e-mailed me a great deal of extra and very useful information
on a man he categorises as a “great unknown conductor”. You
may well be interested in the full range of Mr Kon’no’s
no-one suggests that the Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin
was a front-rank ensemble at the time, Rögner’s admirers assert
that his 1970s and 1980s recordings demonstrate not only his
special affinity for non-Germanic repertoire but also that intangible
quality of podium “greatness”. Unfortunately, however, the
failure to market his recordings properly and his few appearances
as guest conductor outside East Germany significantly limited
the spread of his wider reputation. Thus, like Takashi Asahina,
Arvid Jansons and Václav Smetáček – all unwilling or unable
to travel when at the height of their abilities – Rögner, it
is claimed, was never accorded due international recognition.
does this recording justify awarding the accolade “great” to
Heinz Rögner? One hopes so – because, if not, what else is
there to justify yet another highlights disc of an over-recorded
Tchaikovsky ballet score?
course, a CD of less than 45 minutes length will not make any
assessment easy. But, short measure though it is, the quality
of Rögner’s music making here is certainly impressive.
purposes of comparison, I played this disc alongside a much
admired Deutsche Grammophon Originals CD on which Mstislav
Rostropovich conducts suites from all three Tchaikovsky ballets
(449 726-2) – and I was surprised to find how much more sheer
pleasure I derived from the new Berlin Classics disc.
it seems to me, conducts a performance that is far more conscious
of the music’s stage origins. While Rostropovich’s swans sit
rather heavily in the water, Rögner’s are far lighter and airier.
One can easily see, in the mind’s eye, real dancers performing
on a real stage at the East German conductor’s generally brisk
but appropriately chosen tempi. His Russian counterpart appears,
on the other hand, more concerned with presenting his Swan
Lake suite as a rather darker orchestral showpiece.
impression is emphasised even further by the sound on each disc.
Although the recordings were made within just a few years of
each other, Rostropovich’s emphasises the Karajan-era Berlin
Philharmonic’s woodwinds and its lush, well-upholstered string
section, achieving what the original producer describes in his
contribution to the accompanying booklet as “overwhelming sonority”.
Rögner’s engineers, on the other hand have, given him a more
open and translucent, if slightly reverberant, sound picture
that places rather greater emphasis, to dramatic effect, on
the brass. Sensitive souls will be pleased, though, that the
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin’s players avoid the raucous
excesses particularly associated with Soviet orchestras of the
time, but which I, for one, guiltily confess to enjoying.
is good to hear both conductors paying proper respect to Tchaikovsky’s
music by treating it seriously and with care. But if Rostropovich’s
performance primarily induces a sense of admiration, Rögner’s
suggests a far greater sense of genuine theatricality and excitement.
fear, though, that at less than 45 minutes in length, this is
a disc that will quite possibly languish on retailers’ shelves.
That is a pity. There is certainly nothing here to rule out
– and quite a lot, indeed, to support – the idea that Heinz
Rögner may have been a very good (if not a “great”) conductor.
But we will probably need to hear his performance of the complete
ballet - if it was ever recorded - in order finally to make
up our minds.
as the market stands at present, it is hard to see why anyone
would choose a “highlights” disc at all when, for about a tenner
or so, one can buy a first rate performance of the full score.
Yablonsky’s exciting interpretation, very well played by the
Russian State Symphony Orchestra on the Naxos label (8.555873/4),
was a previous MusicWeb International Bargain of the Month
for just a little more cash, my own preference for a complete
Swan Lake remains the boldly colourful and entirely idiomatic
Evgeny Svetlanov with the same orchestra - then labelled as
merely the “State Symphony Orchestra” - on, if you can find
it, BMG/Melodiya 74321170822. It really is the real thing,
raucous Soviet brass and all!