Hermann Scherchen - Westminster Archives: Volume VI
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
(1885)[28:56] ¹
(1904) [16:11] ¹
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsodies (1850, for piano) S359/R441 (orch. comp. and Doppler)³ No. 1 [10:31]; No. 2 [10:05] No. 3 [11:39]; No. 4 [8:40]; No. 5 [10:33]; No. 6 [12:36]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnival of the Animals [29:21] ²
Lucretia West (contralto) ¹
Garry Moore (reciter): Josef and Grete Dichler (piano) ²
Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Hermann Scherchen
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen ³
rec. September 1954 (Liszt); May 1957 (Saint-Saëns); June 1958 (Mahler)
TAHRA WEST 3011-12 [66:47 + 71:29]
The restoration of Scherchen’s Westminster recordings has now reached volume six. Mahler, Liszt and Saint-Saëns are the rather unlikely disc-fellows for this twofer whilst the conductor directs the Vienna State Opera orchestra, and also Beecham’s RPO in the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies.
Scherchen was a convinced exponent of Mahler. He recorded symphonies 1, 2, 5 and 7 as well as the Adagio from the Tenth for Westminster. He seems to have conducted the song-cycles rather less often. There are three definitely known performances of the Lied von der Erde, five of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and seven of Kindertotenlieder. For his Westminster recordings his contralto in the latter two cycles was Lucretia West, herself a distinguished Mahler exponent. I suppose that she is best known for her Mahler 2 with Scherchen (with Mimi Coertse) and her 8 with Mitropoulos, though this has now been augmented by Barbirolli’s Third [SBT1342].
Scherchen was a powerfully incursive conductor, one prepared to dig into the wrenching string lines of Nun she’ich wohl in Kindertotenlieder to strong effect. West was an equally vivid presence, her throaty, vibrato rich singing of Wenn dein Mütterlein matched by the searing cello line. Some studio spotlighting alters perspectives - the solo violin in Oft denk’ich for example is a particular example of a general practice, as is the very forward wind playing in the final movement - but the playing is certainly immediate and wholly committed. West’s most dramatic flaring depth of tone is reserved for In diesem Wetter though she lightens her tone appreciably as the song draws to its close.
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen proves equally capable in respect of the association between singer and conductor. West gauges her tonal weight cannily, whilst Scherchen sculpts his orchestral forces with vivid declamation. The studio engineers again ensure that the front-on balance brings solo statements forward and the somewhat one-dimensional nature of this adds its own particular gloss.
The set of Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies is something else. He recorded the set of six in stereo with the Vienna State in 1959 but here we have the London 1954 monos. They’re split between discs one and two but no diminution of tension-fuelled colour or pleasure results. The first is delightfully caprice-laden, whilst the second is full of blistering vitality, its solo violin line brandished with aplomb, the orchestra on genuinely energised and ultra-communicative form. Scherchen’s bass up sonority here pays rich dividends. The Royal Family of winds are a boon in circumstances and repertoire such as this, the folkloric fiddle excursions of the third equally so. The inclusion of a cimbalom in the Fourth provides an authentic dash of paprika whilst the trumpet’s rhythmic song in No.5 is augmented by some deft flute and dazzling harp to ripe effect.
To end we have Carnival of the Animals (Vienna, 1957, stereo) with reciter Garry Moore and pianists Josef and Grete Dichler. It utilises the words of John Burt not the more familiar and more entertaining Ogden Nash. One peculiarity of the recording is that overdubbed animal noises sit behind the reciter and the music. This even applies in the case of The Swan, where it intrudes into the cello solo, though it can be intrusive elsewhere, if you are sufficiently minded to resent the practice. The performance is however notably well put across by pianists and orchestra and Moore is a pleasing presence.
This is the last of the 1950-64 Westminster series licensed to DG that Tahra will be issuing. It’s been an invaluable series for Scherchen collectors - well transferred and covering interesting repertoire.
Jonathan Woolf