There’s an unexpected Czech leitmotif to this disc, though you wouldn’t necessarily think so from the line-up. What could be more Austro-Hungarian-Germanic than this fare, and these performers? Well, dig a bit and you find all the confusions, conflations, doubleness, and geo-political shenanigans that mark out this kind of territory. Echt-German conductor Leopold Ludwig, famed for his collaboration on disc with Emil Gilels in Beethoven concertos amongst much else, was actually born in Ostrava in 1908, when the city – now one of the most disgustingly polluted in Europe – was part of the Dual Monarchy. And the Bamberg Symphony, founded in 1946, was composed of a healthy number of members from the so-called ‘German Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague’, who had been kicked out of Czechoslovakia at the end of the War.
Al these DG recordings date from 1951-53, and represent the company’s efforts on behalf of Liszt’s orchestral music. Their reappearance now, in the bicentenary year of his birth, is very welcome. Les Préludes is in the highly competent hands of Ludwig and the Berlin Philharmonic. The conductor had just taken over duties in Hamburg when DG drafted him in to direct what was then still very much Furtwängler’s orchestra, and he secures outstanding playing – theatrical, powerful exciting but not grandiloquent. In February 1953 he returned with Andor Földes to record both Piano Concertos. The sessions lasted three days. Földes is known principally for his Bartók. Long ago I reviewed a disc of…which others highly praise but which I found rather uninspired. Here he is on far firmer footing, and sounds energised, commanding and technically unruffled throughout. In fact he’s a frequently scintillating soloist, cannily supported by Ludwig, rhythmically vital, full of clever rubati. The orchestra plays equally vitally, and the principal cello shines in the central section of the A major.
As a pendant, and one that balances the opening Les Préludes, we have the Bamberg performance, under Ferdinand Leitner, of Hungaria, a slightly sprawling symphonic poem that nevertheless in places uncannily prefigures Mahler. It ends the disc with fine symmetry – two symphonic poems framing the two piano concertos. The notes are helpful and the sound good, though perhaps the transfers are a mite congested.