The Swiss conductor and composer Volkmar Andreae has
a small, concentrated discography. Violin aficionados remember
for his accompaniment to compatriot Stefi
Geyer in Schoeck’s Violin Concerto. He also conducted Fournier in the same
composer’s Cello Concerto, though this was an off-air 1949 traversal. There
were other recordings, often with distinguished soloists, principally in the
expected pieces - Edwin Fischer and Marcelle Meyer in the Emperor
for instance (the latter is on Tahra TAH580), the Vienna Symphony Missa Solemnis
stellar singers, Gieseking in Mozart’s K488, Karl Engel in Chopin’s
First, and Gulda in the Schumann and Weber Konzertstück
. But there
was also Brun’s Ninth Symphony to swell the discography as well as Andreae’s
own Kleine Suite
. But the conductor’s greatest legacy resides in
his championship of Bruckner.
This Vienna Symphony cycle was performed and broadcast in January and February
1953. It constitutes an important addition to the discography and a fascinating
perspective on Andreae’s individual and collective approaches to the composer’s
music. To sum up these crudely, I would characterise Andreae’s conducting
as unmannered, linear, strong, dramatic, crisp, devoid of hallowed sanctimony,
and intensely vital. There is a powerful sense of a conductor whose reach extends
from first to last, and who sees the symphonies as part of a continuum of architectural
and expressive development. He neither inflates the earlier symphonies nor bloats
the last ones; instead he vests the music with a real sense of life-giving exultation,
and whilst this summary might suggest that he thereby downplays the solemnity
and gothic depth of the music, I would argue that this is not so. It has been
an immensely valuable experience to listen to the canon under his direction.
I began my journey with the Seventh, which is characterised by fresh and verdant
wind playing. It’s a feature of these performances that Andreae coaxes
some flowing wind paragraphs from the VSO. This is not a monumental 7, but nor
is it a timid affair either. Tempi are fluid, forward-moving, as lissom sometimes
as a stream. Orchestral textures are well calibrated and not over-vibrated; string
unison figures are not vehement. There’s no dawdling in the finale where
the vivid sense of the music is finely put across.
The marvellously architectural acuity that characterises Andreae’s performances
is perhaps at its most penetrating in the Eighth. There are no longueurs here
at all, or any sense of undue haste. Andreae develops his own momentum, leading
from paragraph point to paragraph point with utter naturalness. The wind and
string cantilever in the Scherzo, and the refined and noble elevation of the
Adagio attest to a supremely human countenance.
One thing that he does - it may sound simplistic but you can feel it throughout
- is immediately to establish a sense of dynamism and direction. Rhythm is underway
from the first second. This is especially true in the case of the Sixth which
starts with a kind of tensely flowing tempo (an Andreae speciality) that lies
at the heart of his music-making. There is great buoyancy here. Though his tempi
are generally fast they don’t seem so, so well pointed are they. It is
an example of incision, of accenting, of lifting phrases forward without hustling
them. Flexibility and control go hand-in-hand and no stasis is allowed to impede
the natural musical current that runs throughout the Sixth’s Adagio.
The Fifth receives another splendid performance. The pizzicati in the second
movement underlie the plangent and never indulged lyric line above. Passion here
is co-opted to lissom and invigorating dynamism. It is playing once again of
life-affirming directness. The Scherzo’s bold accelerando attests to the
unrigid, tensile quality Andreae evokes. There’s a big echo which adds
to the tension of the performance, and an occasional murmur from Andreae which
amplifies his expressive engagement with the music’s sweep and dynamism.
The Ländler is affectionately drawn.
He is generally much quicker than say Furtwängler throughout, where comparison
exists, and roughly aligned in terms of tempo relations with Knappertsbusch,
though Andreae tends to be definitively fleeter in slow movements. He strives
for a sense of symphonic proportion. Thus his Fourth may seem brisk when judged
against some of his contemporaries’ performances, but it never sounds brusque.
The same applies to the Ninth. It’s certainly fast, but its rapidity brings
a galvanic fluidity, and exciting directional contour that sweeps all before
it. There’s a conventional tempo for the Scherzo, but Andreae is even faster
in the last movement than he had been in the opening, taking off six minutes
in this movement alone from the timings of Furtwängler and Kna.
The first three symphonies share, clearly, this proportionate and vital approach.
The Third in particular has great elegance of expression. The rise and fall of
the Adagio is movingly conveyed, the taut elasticity that is so much a feature
of the conducting - graphically so in this case. There are some unusually expansive
examples of portamenti in the Scherzo. We also have a marvellously strong Te
. The line-up of stellar vocal talent may remind one of Scherchen-directed
performances on disc but the ethos is all Andreae’s. Rhythmic surety and
sonorous choral contributions reign supreme throughout.
There are bilingual (English/German) notes with pertinent commentaries on editions
used by the conductor, his discography, biography and a background to his Bruckner
performances. The transfers are by Aaron Z Snyder who may have had good quality
digital transfers with which to work, but has also had to work hard at removing
extraneous noise and correcting balances. Snyder is one of the best in his field
at the moment and he lives up to his reputation with restoration work that never
draws attention to itself.
If you’re looking for a Bruckner cycle in resplendent SACD you will not
have read even the first paragraph of this review. To appreciate this set requires
belief in Brucknerian electricity and a ‘just’ balance between expressive
nobility and dramatic dynamism. Among historic cycles this one now ranks high