This set of three radio broadcasts makes for an enterprising collection.
It neatly encapsulates on one CD the key focus of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt’s
career. He spent twenty years as principally an Opera conductor.
At the end of the Second World War he became an orchestral conductor
after being requested to form the Hamburg Radio Orchestra by the
British Army. He had apparently been interested in Tippett’s music
from 1931 until it was banned in Germany - ironic as Tippett went to prison as a conscientious objector!
people fall in line with Colin Clarke’s assertion that Schmidt-Isserstedt
was a dependable - read “boring” – conductor. I must admit to
remembering his 1960s Decca Beethoven as OK but not the most
thrilling. I may need to reappraise this judgment following
hearing this CD. His Brahms’ though is a different manner. Geoff
Diggines stated last year on “Seen and Heard” that “In concert
he’s only heard three performances which come close to realizing
Brahms’ supreme orchestral statement in the last movement “chaconne”
- those from Klemperer, Boult and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt”.
His Fourth. Symphony for Vox in 1962 was regarded as
one of the best bargains. His complete set with NDR Symphony
Orchestra was on Artiphon-200-1-4 (4 LPs) and I purchased it
a few months ago on 3 CDs (Scribendum SC005). It is available
at MDT for under £20. It was also the last major piece he conducted
one week prior to his death in May 1973; a very appropriate
piece as a “Swan Song” with an ending of catastrophe as encapsulated
Overture to Weber’s Euryanthe is a studio recording and
very fine too. Great playing and the conductor showing his experience
of opera. I don’t know if this was the overture in the concert
a few days later but it fits very well. The sound is good stereo
illustrating the high standards of BBC. Euryanthe was
first performed in Vienna
in 1823 and met with failure but the “Overture” has always been
popular and is a good choice for this German conductor: a good
start to this CD - really gets the ball rolling! I see that
this work opened the first concert in 2000 under NDR Orchestra’s
conductor from 2000-2004, Christoph Eschenbach.
the sleeve-notes fail to mention is the significance of Tippett’s
Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli. This might
appear to the largely unknowledgeable on this conductor - including
me - as a strange selection but his modern choices although
limited included Tippett and Britten. There is a certain irony
in this being a BBC concert as the organisation had originally
turned it down; Tippett thought the “volte-face” very amusing.
Neither Sir Malcolm Sargent (Chief Conductor) nor Paul Beard
(Leader 1938-1962) were keen on this music. Sir Malcolm apparently
said in 1956 that it was unplayable. I’m a great admirer of
“Flash” and recall my first BBC concert at Oxford’s New Theatre in 1966 when he conducted
Dvořák’s “New World” but I think he was wrong here! It must have had some effect on Tippett
as he’d taken conducting lessons from Sargent and Boult in the
1920s.This is not a piece I knew but recently acquired an EMI
Studio double CD set at my very friendly Oxfam in Broad Street
Oxford. The version of the “Fantasia” on this double
CD set from 1964 is conducted by the composer and features Yehudi
Menhuin. I see that a similar set is available through Archiv
Music. In the UK EMI have recently released a “Tippett conducts
Tippett” set on 0724358658828. The soloists include two musicians
I remember fondly from my Radio days (before I owned a record
player) in the 1960s and early 1970s and TV Proms. Eli
Goren - much loved first leader of the Allegri Quartet - and
Bela Dekany - as well as orchestral his Quartet made some fine
Haydn. Both Menuhin and Tippett are very good in this highly
enjoyable piece with Schmidt-Isserstedt taking about a couple
of minutes longer than the composer who unsurprisingly enjoys
better sound in the studio.
Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, composed
in 1953 uses as a basis Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Opus 6 No.2
in F. He also transcribes later the opening of Bach’s “Fuge
on a theme by Corelli” bwv579 for organ. This is a clear link
with the Brahms 4 which follows on the disc as in the final
movement Brahms’ chaconne adapts the passacaglia
theme in the closing movement of J.S. Bach’s cantata “Nach
dir, Herr,verlanget mich” BWV 150 (“For thee O Lord, I long”). In his review
of a Decca “twofer” Rob Barnett reviews the landmark recording
by ASMF under Sir Neville Marriner which I now feel I must hear!
His comment “The Corelli Fantasia is searching and flooded
with baroque grandeur, humanity and a twentieth century passion”
is spot-on. After the beginning Tippett does much more than
‘just’ variations but uses the theme for light and dark: utilizing
the 18th century concerto in very inventive way.
The BBC performance appears to me to differ in emphasis due
perhaps to the fact that the soloists have more chamber music
experience and theirs seems more integrated in this live recording.
An analogy could be made with Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto”
between three soloists and a trio such as the Beaux Arts. The
light and shade of this piece seems to be organic and really
illustrates Schmidt-Isserstedt’s human way with the orchestra.
I was very pleased to discover the piece and have the advantage
over the audience of hearing it several times. A confession
- I have always found Tippett's music a very tough nut to crack
apart from “Steal away” from “A Child in Time” which like the
current piece uses an established tune. I’m reminded of Beecham’s
comment about Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia, which has certain
parallels with the Tippett: “In this work the composer
uses this theme, unfortunately in all his other works he does
4 was my late father’s favourite symphony - along with Mozart 39 - and
is an especial love of mine. As an enthusiastic/obsessive collector,
I have over twenty versions including the above-mentioned Boult
and Klemperer (both EMI), a couple of Toscaninis (Testament;
RCA) and the truly remarkable Carlos Kleiber (DG). Whilst the
studio recording made earlier is good, the playing of the BBCSO
and the sense of live occasion strikes one immediately. Right
from the start there is a strong forward pulse and momentum.
The orchestral sound is very well captured illustrating again
the excellent standard of the BBCSO in the not-so-easy acoustics
of the Royal Festival Hall. The slow movement, a real gem, avoids
any sluggishness but with impending sadness apparent; lovely
clarinet from I guess Jack Brymer towards the end. The invigorating
“Allegro” is full of lightness and a sense of panache. The engineers
have captured the triangles and the horns, so crucial in Brahms.
The finale is an equal triumph showing the conductor’s command
of a fine orchestra and with speeds appreciably faster than
his studio recording. There is a real sense of gathering disaster
built up by the drums bringing the work to its climax. The audience
who show warm appreciation at the end are very quiet throughout
and their presence in no way detracts from this fine live relay.
A very good Brahms 4 and one I will happily return to.
in all this is a very fine and imaginative selection to represent
an underrated conductor. A most valuable BBC Legends.
David R Dunsmore