Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – The Capitol Recordings
CD 1 [75:42] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Serenade No.13 Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K525 (1787) [16:58]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony No.94 in G (1791) [22:18]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No.5 in B flat D485 (1816) [25:28]
CD 2 [77:26] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor Op.37 (1800) [38:45]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Symphony No.2 in D Op.73 (1877) [38:07]
CD 3 [71:05] Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Rosamunde extracts – Entr’acte No.1 [7:45]: Ballet No.1 [6:59]: Ballet No.2 [6:03]: Entr’acte No.2, D797 (1823) [6:20]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Das Rheingold: Entry of the Gods into Valhalla (1869) [6:34] Die Walküre; Ride of the Valkyries (1850) [5:33] Die Walküre: Magic Fire Music (1850) [5:17] Siegfried: Forest Murmurs (1876) [8:17] Götterdämmerung: Siegfried’s voyage on the Rhine (1876) [10:15] Götterdämmerung: Funeral March (1876) [7:16]
Ventislaw Yankov (piano)
NWDR Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
rec. April and December 1955
TAHRA TAH 694-696 [3 CDs: 75:42 + 77:26 + 71:05]  

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt made a series of studio recordings for both Capitol and Telefunken in the 1950s and Tahra has sensibly decided to devote two three-disc sets to each of them. This Capitol series, very well transferred and with delightful and evocative LP cover reproductions in the booklet, will be of some interest to those who have been won over by the conductor’s intelligent and sensitive approach to the mainstream symphonic repertoire.  

The first disc begins with a spruce, and most enjoyable Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Repeats may have been jettisoned but the NWDR strings are lithely attractive. Haydn’s Symphony No.94 was, in effect, a remake of the 78 set he’d made in Berlin in the 1930s, a period when he was in significant demand, not least as an accompanist to some of the elite instrumentalists then recording in Germany — most famously perhaps Kulenkampff in the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Schmidt-Isserstedt’s Haydn is neither sluggish nor intemperate; rather it’s well argued and well played. It may lack the élan of Beecham, say, but it wears its own integrity with commendable lightness. The first disc also includes Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, in a buoyant, imaginative reading, full of clean lines, wind detailing and crisp rhythm. He drives on through the trio of the scherzo to noticeably advantageous effect.  

The second disc disinters a recording of Beethoven’s C minor Piano Concerto with Ventislaw Yankov. This is a rather stolid affair, lacking a degree of pianistic energy. The conductor was an eminent exponent of Beethoven and his cycle of the symphonies is a just, sane and attractive one. Here he can do little to help things other than to provide sympathetic support. Things don’t improve even in the finale. I should note that on my copy, after the first movement cadenza, there is a ghostly reprise beginning pp, and then we hear the whole cadenza again. Maybe this blip afflicts only my review copy. The Brahms Second Symphony restores equilibrium with a performance of great architectural surety. One feels in the safest and least doctrinaire of hands. There are no explosive moments, à la Beecham, in the finale to ‘jolly the thing along’. Instead the music evinces its own inexorable sense of development, long-breathed, moving and honest.  

The last disc opens with extracts from Rosamunde in bold and energetic performances. The music is not Schubert’s most subtle but the conductor and orchestra respond with vigour. The rest of the final disc consists of Wagnerian chunks, played with fulsome commitment and, once again, a sure sense of the music’s direction, its peaks and troughs. They are hardly essential, in the overall context of the conductor’s discography, but they sit very comfortably here.   Tahra’s commitment to this conductor’s legacy is admirable. So too are the performances and transfers.  

Jonathan Woolf  

Tahra’s commitment to Schmidt-Isserstedt’s legacy is admirable.