Konoye - The Complete Berlin Philharmonic Recordings.
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon in E flat K297b (1778) [29:15]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.91 in E flat Hob.I:91 (1788) [19:25]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
A Night on the Bare Mountain (1867 arr. and re-orch Rimsky Korsakov, 1886) [9:33]
German National Anthem [0:56]: Horst Wesel Lied [0:59]: Japanese National Anthem (Kamigayo) arr. Konoye [2:07]
Erich Venzke (oboe); Alfred Bürkner (clarinet); Martin Ziller (horn); Oskar Rothensteiner (bassoon)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Hidemare Konoye
rec. Berlin 1937-38

In terms of recording history Hidemaro Konoye is best known for his pioneering 1930 recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, made in Tokyo for Japanese Parlophone. The seeming incongruity of this undertaking, and the West’s comparative ignorance of the Japanese recording industry, has conspired to grant this set a real, albeit unexpected cachet. But Konoye, or Viscount Konoye (1898-1973), was steeped in Austro-German music. He’d first studied in Germany four years after Mahler’s death, then returned to Europe in 1923, studying with a raft of big names – composition with d’Indy and Schreker, and conducting with Erich Kleiber and Karl Muck. Konoye founded the New Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo, with whom he made the Mahler recording, but he also had an established relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic, which he first directed in 1924. Thirteen years later he began a small series of recordings with them, all presented in this disc.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante grants solo space to four leading Berlin principals: Erich Venzke (oboe), Alfred Bürkner (clarinet), Martin Ziller (horn) and Oskar Rothensteiner (bassoon). All four play with personable wit, and whilst they are perhaps less richly individual than the soloists on Stokowski’s near contemporaneous Philadelphia recording – Marcel Tabuteau, Bernard Portnoy, Mason Jones and Sol Schoenbach were the illustrious names in that set – some may prefer Konoye’s more discreet handling of the orchestral fabric. He encourages some warm slides in the opening introduction and throughout, but otherwise adopts a ‘let them play’ approach that works well, not least in the bucolic finale.

Haydn’s Symphony No.91 was well chosen for recording purposes. Not only is it compact but I’m not aware of any contender in the late 30s. The Polydors used for transfer are rather more crackly than the Columbias used for the Mozart, but once again side joins are imperceptible and the sound spectrum is excellent. Konoye proves to be a rather impressive Classicist, imbuing the music with a nicely characterised quality, and pomposo when required.

Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain managed to fit onto two sides of a Polydor 78, and it’s tautly argued and quite driven. The remainder of the disc offers a slice of political life. There’s the German National Anthem, coupled on the same side with the Horst Wessel Lied, and on the reverse the Japanese National Anthem in Konoye’s own arrangement. For obvious reasons these recordings haven’t seen much currency since the War.

This disc houses the complete Konoye Berlin recordings, in fine transfers. If you’re curious, you can purchase with confidence, in both interpretative and transfer senses.

Jonathan Woolf

The complete Konoye-Berlin in fine transfers. Purchase with confidence, in both interpretative and transfer senses.