ROBERT WAGNER AND THE INNSBRUCK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
A discographical note by Christopher Howell
I recently reviewed a reissue of Felicja Blumental’s performances of Beethoven’s first two piano concertos, accompanied by Robert Wagner and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Earlier issues of these recordings had named the Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra, which made a number of LPs under Robert Wagner in the 1960s. As a result of some inconclusive googling I queried whether both orchestra and conductor were pseudonyms. A reader from France has kindly drawn my attention to a few sites that suggest this was not so. In following them up I came across a fair amount of additional information. Though some of it is vague or contradictory, a reasonably convincing curriculum emerges. For the interest of readers with fond memories of budget LPs I state below what I have been able to find. I should be happy to have the details filled in or corrected. It would be rather nice to have the reminiscences of someone who actually saw Robert Wagner conduct.
Robert Wagner was born in Vienna on 20 April 1915. He studied music at the Staatsakademie and was appointed Kapellmeister in Graz in 1938. His pupils at this time included Ernst Märzendorfer, later the first conductor to record the complete Haydn symphonies. Also in 1938, Wagner published a book on Franz Schmidt. In 1940 he completed this composer’s Nazi-inspired cantata “Deutsche Auferstehung” (German Resurrection), left unfinished at the time of Schmidt’s death in 1939. After the war Wagner taught at the Salzburg Mozarteum and was Generalmusikdirektor in Münster from 1951-1961. He took up a similar position in Innsbruck in 1961 and moved to the Salzburg Mozarteum Academy in 1966, remaining Director till 1971. He then moved to Istanbul, becoming, according to one source, Musical Director of the State Orchestra, though the Wikipedia entry on this orchestra does not list him among its conductors. Several Turkish conductors mention Robert Wagner among their teachers, referring to him as Musical Director of the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet. Again, sites dedicated specifically to this company do not mention him. He appeared as guest conductor with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and in Ankara, Athens, Brussels, Sweden and Spain. In 1995 he was awarded the “Goldene Ehrenmedaille” of the “Universität Mozarteum”. He died on 21 December 2008.
The Tiroler Symphonie Orchester Innsbruck was founded in 1893. Its site lists Robert Wagner among its post-war Chief Conductors but without any details. The present Chief Conductor is Georg Fritzsch. It mainly works with artists of local reputation, but in January 2011 Thomas Zehetmair appeared as both soloist and conductor.
The recording careers of Robert Wagner and the Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra, as it was simply described on the record covers, seem limited to their period spent together. Most of their records were made for Vox/Turnabout, and were almost exclusively in an accompanying role. Soloists included Susan Lautenbacher, Martin Galling, Peter Frankl and David Glazer. A particularly successful record was with the contralto Maura Moreira, who sang works by Brahms, Wagner and Mahler. What gave this record a certain status, though, was the inclusion of Schumann’s “Requiem für Mignon”, not otherwise available at the time. This disc was set down in 1963 and the soprano soloist in the Schumann was the young Edith Mathis. One disc in which Wagner and the ISO went “solo” contained dances by Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn.
On Philips/Fontana they accompanied the violinist Michèle Auclair in concertos by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn. Admirers of Auclair rate these performances very highly. Also on Philips, Wagner conducted some recordings of Verdi sung in German, including “La Traviata” with Rita Streich and Ernst Kozub. The orchestra is simply called the “Grosses Opernorchestra”. This was issued in 1963. An “Aida” from 1962 with Zadek, Kozub and Crass named the “Orchester der Stadt Innsbruck”. Kozub and Crass also took part in a 1963 German-sung version of Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann”, again on Philips with the “Grosses Opernorchester”. A Philips CD of “Beliebte Opernchöre im Deutsch”, with pieces by Wagner, Verdi, Beethoven and Weber, names the Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra under Wagner.
A 3-CD set of excerpts from “Otello”, “Rigoletto”, “Aida” and “Nabucco” appeared on the Concerto Royale label. Wagner here conducted the “Stadt Innsbruck”. For Pfilz the team set down two LPs of excerpts from “Tristan und Isolde”. The cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with Felicja Blumental first came out on Saga and was then attributed to the Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra. The recent Brana reissue, as mentioned, claims it as the work of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Given all the above, the Innsbruck SO seems more likely to have played and it would be interesting to know why Brana believe this was not so. It is always possible, of course, that the fairly provincial band was regularly stiffened up with players from Vienna for recording purposes.