Hans Knappertsbusch conducts Bruckner Symphonies: 1944-59 live performances
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1256 [6 CDs:70:22 + 76:18 + 62:47 + 62:45 + 77:34 + 77:29]
Back in 2007 I reviewed an Andromeda boxed set of Knappertsbusch’s Bruckner symphonies. Additional music included Wagner and Liszt items, to ensure that the six CDs were well filled. But Music & Arts had long before released these Bruckner symphonies in various editions over a number of years. For the record No.3 was first released on CD-257 in 1987, No.4 on CD-249 (1987), No.7 on CD-209 in 1986 and, in boxed form, Nos. 4 to 9 on CD-1028 in 1988, though this included a different performance of No.3 to the one originally issued on CD-257. I appreciate that this is all rather numerically and temporally confusing, but I regret it’s going to get worse.
This new digitally remastered box, with work by Aaron Z. Snyder in 2011, represents a retrenchment of Music & Arts’s position. It also restores the original No.3, which is to say the Bavarian live performance of 11 October 1954. Other than that all the performances are the same ones that were represented in M & A’s first box back in 1998 and that Andromeda (largely) released a decade or so later.
I should also add that Mark Kluge’s notes, a 2011 revision of the 2008 original, go into full detail as to the exact editions performed. This is something that was equally true of this company’s Furtwängler Bruckner box.
What follows now is a slight revision of my Andromeda review; given that the performances are almost all the same, it can hardly be otherwise. I’ve tried to keep things as brief and unBrucknerian as I can.
No.3; other performances include the same year’s commercial Decca with the Vienna Philharmonic, a 1960 version with the same orchestra, and there’s an NDR from 1962, once on Discocorp. The Munich performance is rough hewn and rustic. Ensemble precision, as you would expect, is not of the highest and Kna’s rallentandi sometimes catch out the orchestra.
No.4 is the Berlin Philharmonic performance given in Baden-Baden during wartime. Two VPO performances have survived - the commercial Decca (1955) and the early sixties performances on Nuova Era. The 1944 performance - the details of the edition used are of Brucknerian length in the booklet notes and indeed of Wittgensteinian complexity - is again a roughly played and only approximate performance. The horns begin very shakily and though they recover can’t be relied upon. To compensate, however, for technical frailties we have a powerful Andante, consoling and tragic, and a meatily demotic scherzo. The finale is trenchant, dramatic and overwhelmingly exciting. In fact it’s one of the most combustible Fourths on record.
No.5 was recorded in the studio for Decca in June 1956 with the Vienna Philharmonic. This isn’t it. It’s the Munich performance with the city’s Philharmonic, which dates from 1959 and was once also released Movimento Musica - yet another interchangeable Italian privateer. Kna plays the 1896 Doblinger edition prepared by Schalk. Knappertsbusch stuck to his guns with regard to editions and in fairness to him in certain cases there wasn’t then much viable alternative. The playing in Vienna was good but things were better three years later in Munich. It may lack the Vienna sheen but it possesses a more supple rhythmic sense, and greater accenting. The result is a more commanding and convincing symphonic arch, with greater depth in episodes and correspondingly greater cumulative power.
The Seventh was recorded at the Salzburg Festival in August 1949. The much less well-known 1963 WDR performance was on the equally less well-known Seven Seas label. The Seventh was given with the Vienna Philharmonic. This is writ on the widest canvas. Dynamics and orchestral timbre are both subject to wide extremes. Kna here operates on differing principles of expression to Furtwängler and Abendroth - the latter’s Scherzo, for example, differs immensely from Kna’s less countrified approach. Above all Kna unfolds the great arching melodies with a passionate intensity that is always both structurally coherent and colouristically intense. Textual problems are not so much of a concern here and what remains is the profound sense of an immense span of time unfolded without hindrance of any kind.
Seven Seas have actually also issued this 1951 Berlin No.8 on KICC2027 and Hunt likewise on CD711. The Bavarian State 1955 performance has been issued (it’s very, very fast), Memories dug out the VPO, and MCA offered the commercial 1963 Munich recording (it’s very, very slow). It’s as well that we hear the Berlin performance and not the Munich because the former is an infinitely better performed piece of work and not subject to nearly so many orchestral mishaps. Textual matters will be of concern to listeners but seen in the light of his Bruckner performances generally they are surely subordinate to the sense of massive characterisation and eloquence that the conductor generates. Even if I think this a lesser performances than say the Seventh and the Fifth, it still stands as a kind of monument of Knappertsbusch’s Bruckner conducting.
As for the Ninth, Foyer has also issued this 1950 Berlin traversal [CDS16004]. The only other Ninth previously known to me is the February 1958 Bavarian State on Hunt CD710 - this company had a run of Symphonies Nos.7-9. Recently though I’ve reviewed an Audite box of Kna’s RIAS recordings. This presents both the performance that Music & Arts includes, and adds the radio broadcast, without audience, given two days earlier. Kna employs a full panoply of expressive devices, huge dynamics and powerful contrasts, to make his points. As before and in contradistinction to the views of many of his detractors, he does not do so through the expedient of slow tempi.
The Wagner extracts act somewhat as fillers to bring up three of the discs to a good total timing. They are dramatic and valuable, though in the circumstances ancillary to the Brucknerian matter in hand.
The attractiveness or otherwise of this set is entirely dependent on how much you have elsewhere. Nothing here is new to the discography. The performances are in the main of outstanding power and eloquence and the remastering of fine quality.
Performances of outstanding power and eloquence and the remastering of fine quality.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner symphonies
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.3 in D minor (1877) [51:10]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876); Siegfried’s Rhine Journey [11:45]; Funeral March [6:45]
Symphony No.4 in E flat Romantic (1878-80) [60:33]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried: Act II scene 2 [17:27]
Symphony No.5 in B flat major (1876) [60:51]
Symphony No.7 in E major (1881-84) [62:50]
Symphony No.8 in C minor (1884-87, rev. 1889-90) [78:30]
Symphony No.9 in D minor, (1891-1896) [55:10]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Walkure: Act I Scene 3 [19:51]
Bavarian State Opera, recorded Munich, October 1954 [No.3]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded Baden-Baden, September 1944 [No.4]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded March 1959 [No.5]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded Salzburg, August 1949 [No.7]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded Berlin, January 1951 [No.8]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded Berlin, January 1950 [No.9]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra, recorded November 1959 [Götterdämmerung]
Bernd Aldenhoff (tenor) - Siegfried: Otto von Rohr (bass) - Fafner/Bavarian State Opera Orchestra, recorded 1952, live [Siegfried]
Bernd Aldenhoff (tenor) - Siegmund, Maud Cunitz (soprano) - Sieglinde/Bavarian State Opera Orchestra, recorded 1952, live [Die Walküre]