Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) might fairly be described as a musician’s
The notes in the booklet include Francis Poulenc’s 1954 verdict:
buffs believe that the greatest living conductor is Toscanini; musicians
that it is Hans Rosbaud.” Noted for his championship of contemporary
he was much admired by Pierre Boulez among other luminaries. He spent a
deal of his career conducting radio orchestras in Germany and in
the orchestra of Radio Frankfurt before the war and, from 1948 until his
the orchestra of South West German Radio in Baden-Baden. I was interested
read that he was also a regular guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony
from 1959 onwards.
If I describe this performance of Mahler’s Fifth as direct and
I don’t wish to imply that it’s a performance devoid of
such is not the case. However, this is not a soul-baring reading of the
that you might associate with conductors such as Bernstein or Tennstedt.
does it have quite the emotional warmth that one finds from, say,
It’s noteworthy that Rosbaud takes 66 minutes to play the symphony -
I don’t feel that he rushes his fences - whereas Bernstein
with the VPO in 1987 - review
takes 75:00; Tennstedt (‘live’ LPO, 1988 - review
takes 73:24 and Barbirolli’s celebrated 1969 account with the New
plays for 74:29. Mind you, Rosbaud is nowhere near as fleet as Bruno
who, in his 1947 New York recording, whips through the score in just 60:51
One other thing to say is that though the orchestral playing is perfectly
- a few rough edges apart - Rosbaud doesn’t seem to cultivate a
beautiful orchestral sound; rather, the sound is lean and muscular - and
the worse for that. You may feel, as I do, that the principal trumpet is
too prominent in the first movement but I wouldn’t count this a
Rosbaud’s handling of the opening funeral march is impressive: the
has due weight but it’s never allowed to become unduly expansive. I
that all the points that need to be made are duly registered. The opening
the second movement is suitably tempestuous, as is much of the movement,
the lyrical second subject, first heard on the cellos at 1:27, is phrased
The extended recitative-like cello passage (from 4:05) is expressively
also. The chorale, when it appears at 10:49, is powerful yet the rhetoric
The scherzo comes off very well; Rosbaud gets strongly projected playing
vitality from the Cologne orchestra, even if the playing is not always
polished. The conductor gets a bit tick in the box from me for his
of the famous Adagietto. Here we have a performance of Mahler’s
music shorn of any Death in Venice
accretions - and rightly so.
instructive to compare other timings with the 8:53 in this present
Bernstein takes 11:13 and Tennstedt 11:21. Barbirolli is less effusive at
while no one is anywhere near as swift as Walter (7:36). I detect no lack
feeling or expressiveness in Rosbaud’s reading and he is not afraid
deploy a judicious amount of portamento. It’s good to hear a
approach to this music.
Even if one has heard more unbuttoned, virtuoso accounts of the rondo
Rosbaud is still persuasive and certainly engaged my attention throughout.
Cologne orchestra offers spirited playing and Rosbaud is fully in command
the music - as, indeed, he is throughout the symphony - bringing the
home powerfully. I’m unsure if the performance was truly
or recorded under studio conditions but I couldn’t detect the
of an audience; there is no applause at the end.
The sound is perfectly acceptable, especially given its vintage. There is
useful note by Kenneth Woods.
The ICA Classics series is artist-led and none the worse for that.
there have been a good number of releases featuring celebrated conductors
as Boult, Giulini, Klemperer, Svetlanov and Tennstedt. It’s very
to find recognition being given here to a conductor whose reputation with
public may not have been as great as that of some of his illustrious
This release provides evidence that the reputation that Hans Rosbaud
among his fellow musicians was justified. His Mahler Fifth is a notable
to the symphony’s discography and is well worth hearing. I
ICA Classics on their enterprise in issuing it.
Masterwork Index: Mahler