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aBritish Symphonies
4CDs £16 post-free


W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
Bax, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Berkeley
Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

Van Dieren Chinese Symphony
Searle Symphonies 3, 5
Shaw Piano Concertos 1 and 2

£11.75 post-free

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Editor-in-Chief: Rob Barnett

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concertos BWV1046-1051 (1708-21)
Suite for Orchestra No.3 in D, BWV1068 (c. 1717-23)
Hamburg Chamber Orchestra/Wilhelm Schüchter
rec. 1954-55, Bielefeld
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR838-39 [68:46 + 56:27]

My adventure with the posthumous legacy of Wilhelm Schüchter continues. Years of never hearing a note of his recordings has been followed by what is, for me, a downpour of Schüchter performances, one that continues with these 1954-55 Brandenburg Concertos, taped in Bielefeld with the Hamburg Chamber Orchestra.
Forgotten Recordings has quietly been amassing a stockpile of Brandenburgs from this period, and you can find sets by Boyd Neel (1956), Thurston Dart (1958-59) and Hermann Scherchen (1954) as well as other rather less recommendable versions by other conductors. It would be untrue to say that a consensus was developing among the conductors cited in these concertos; clearly consensus was something Scherchen didn’t do and of all the sets of the Brandenburgs from conductors in the 1950s his are the ones with the most tempo extremes, not least in numbers 1 and 6. Differences in string size, articulation, balance, phrasing and dance imperatives are, of course, still very much present in recordings that show how very personalised and individual was the presentation of such music at the time.
Schüchter has the advantage of Bernhard Hamann and his violino piccolo in the first concerto and the horns sound to good effect too, not least in the third movement Allegro, though here Schüchter’s slowings-down are a mite distracting. He takes a stately, measured tempo for the opening of the second concerto where Adolf Scherbaum’s trumpet is admirable but there’s more of a conventionally flowing speed in the chamber intimacy of the central Andante. The third concerto is relaxed but not slack, unlike Scherchen’s rather Brucknerian effect in this work, whilst the fourth features the young Hans-Martin Linde as flautist, alongside his colleague Ferdinand Conrad in a reading that reminds one a little of Thurston Dart’s approach a few years hence. The Fifth meanwhile is comparable to Boyd Neel’s, though maybe Neel’s lighter touch and lighter string weight pay greater dividends, as do his superior soloists in the shape of Emanuel Hurwitz, Geoffrey Gilbert and George Malcolm. Still, Heinz Bernstein is a characterful harpsichord stylist for Schüchter. The sixth is well-calibrated for its time, and excellently judged as to balance, notably the unnamed viola soloists. As a bonus - this label likes to add bonus material to bulk up timings and you won’t hear me complain - is the Suite No.3 which reflects the best qualities of the Brandenburgs.
These intelligent, sane, accomplished readings will obviously only occupy a very niche place even in this label’s own catalogue. A lot of water has flowed under the discographic bridge since the mid-1950s and in truth a ‘provincial’ German band under a supposedly run-of-the-mill conductor wouldn’t have been enormously enticing even in 1955. But I’m glad they’re back in the catalogue. The more I hear of Schüchter, the more I respect him.
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Brandenburg concertos