Rudolf Koeckert is best known for the string quartet which bore his name, and for being one of the most thoughtful and sensitive quartet leaders of his time. That side of his musical life is certainly attended to here, via his quartet’s performance of the Trout
quintet. For all his immersion in the chamber repertoire, Koeckert was also a more-than-sometime soloist, not least on disc. This Forgotten Records release attends too to that side of his musical armoury.
The principal focus of Koeckert the Soloist here is Spohr’s most famous Concerto, the Eighth. Recorded in January 1954, he had the support of Bavarian forces directed by Fritz Lehmann, a very safe pair of hands in the recording studio. The Spohr is a concerto that requires an orator and operatic singer wrapped up in one. It needs the rapier drama of Heifetz, not least in his fizzingly fast finale. It needs the Hanseatic hauteur of Georg Kulenkampff, as well. Above all, in historic terms, at least in terms of recordings made prior to this one, it needs Albert Spalding in his greatest single performance on disc. His vocalised expression, where every piece of passagework, every trill, and every portamento supports an interpretation of superb plasticity and succulent power, is the acme of interpretative incision. Koeckert does his best, but his best, after Spalding, after Heifetz and Kulenkampff, sounds very small-scaled and emotionally mean-spirited. Time and again his clean-limbed, withdrawn, post-war cleanliness obscures Spohr’s declamatory power, much less his slow movement’s pathos. In the end the reading remains non-committal: wrong work, wrong soloist.
For the two Beethoven Romances, works never easy to project and surprisingly difficult to concentrate on - at least that’s my view - he’s joined by Ferdinand Leitner and the Bamberg Orchestra. The cultivated strings make their mark, the winds are equally assured and Koeckert plays well enough without imposing much in the way of a personal stamp.
For the Trout
Koeckert and his quartet are joined by pianist Adrian Aeschbacher. This is central Koeckert territory and the performance doesn’t lack for interest. It’s arguably not ideally balanced for its time - November 1952 - or indeed any time. In that respect alternatives such as Joerg Demus’s contemporaneous LP with the Schubert Quartet was much to be preferred. I’d put in a good word for Wührer and the Barchet - both because I respect the pianist and admire the Barchet. Both these other performances strike me as suppler and a touch more spontaneously sympathetic than the Aeschbacher-Koeckert but it’s good to hear the pairing. And whatever problems one may have with the original balance, the transfer here, and throughout this disc, is accomplished.
Masterwork Index: Trout quintet