FORGOTTEN ARTISTS - An occasional series
by Christopher Howell
1. Henry Swoboda (1897-1990)
many readers the name of Henry Swoboda will come in tandem with that of
Clara Haskil. He was the conductor for three of her earlier concerto
recordings. These have been reissued on various labels dedicated to
historical material. But who was Henry Swoboda?
Such information as shows up is sketchy.
Wikipedia’s brief stub gives as its reference “Sources relating to the
history of émigré musicians”, edited by Horst Weber and Manuela
Schwartz (Munich 2005). A profile and interview by William A. Weber
(The Harvard Crimson 2.11.1962) followed Swoboda’s appointment as
conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. A quite detailed posting
in an internet discussion group seems to reproduce the entry in John
Holmes’s classic book “Conductors on Record”.
Some of this material is contradictory, so it
would be interesting to hear from anyone who knows more or better.
Briefly, Henry Swoboda was born in Prague on 29 October 1897. He
studied under Vaclav Talich there and also in Vienna. He was an
assistant conductor at the Prague Opera (1921-1923), worked for
Electrola in Berlin (1927-1931), guest conducted in Edinburgh, Berlin,
Dresden and Vienna and was a conductor and programme planner for Prague
Radio (1931-1938). Wikipedia also states that he was guest professor at
the University of Southern California between 1931 and 1939. This may
not be compatible with the other appointments listed and the Harvard
Crimson article, derived from an interview with Swoboda himself, does
not mention it. They agree, however, that he settled in the United
States in 1939 and became an American citizen in the 1940s. Post-war,
he appeared in Europe and Southern America but did not actually conduct
publicly in the United States till 1960, when he appeared at the Empire
State Music Festival. Thereafter he was conductor of the
Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (1962-4), visiting professor and conductor
of Texas University orchestra (1964-8) and, one supposes, drifted out
of the scene with encroaching old age. He died on 13 August 1990.
Swoboda’s pre-war career had involved
administration and organization as well as conducting. Post-war he was
one of the founder-members of the Westminster recording company in
1949. He recorded prolifically for this in the early 1950s as well as
for Concert Hall and its associated Musical Masterpieces Society and La
Guilde International du Disque. On one slightly later recording (1959)
he accompanied Ruth Slenczynska in Saint-Saëns’ second piano concerto,
conducting the Symphony of the Air. This was issued on Decca.
Given Swoboda’s part-ownership of Westminster,
this might look like a partly vanity career. If there was any element
of this, then he used it well. Of the works he set down for
Westminster, several were first recordings and, apart from some
concertos with noted soloists, practically none were easily obtainable
in other versions at the time. Whereas Concert Hall, and in particular
the Musical Masterpieces Society, were interested in making available
cheap versions of repertoire works. Swoboda set down a number of
popular items for them, in particular symphonies by Haydn and Mozart.
Westminster also undertook - presumably under Swoboda’s influence - the
promotion and preservation of the art of several conductors not
otherwise well documented by the record industry, especially Hermann
Scherchen. The Westminster recordings were mainly - and, in Swoboda’s
case, exclusively - made in Vienna with the Symphony Orchestra or the
State Opera Orchestra. Some of the earlier Concert Hall and Musical
Masterpieces Society recordings use pseudonymous groups such as the
“Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra”. Properly identified orchestras were
the Winterthur Symphony Orchestra and the Netherlands Philharmonic
Orchestra. The latter was a pick-up band using players from various
Dutch radio orchestras, unrelated to the present-day orchestra of the
same name. As we shall see, Clara Haskil was not the only distinguished
soloist apparently happy to be accompanied by Swoboda. He proved an
excellent collaborator in every case.
Swoboda’s recordings can be obtained from a number
of download sources, all of which I wish to thank for their dedication
and efforts. In particular, “Mon Musée Musical”, a fascinating and very
well organized French-language site run by René Gagnaux, “The European
Archive”, a site offering a lot of material but sometimes depending on
damaged LP copies, Random Classics and Squirrel’s Nest, two sites
which, for reasons explained therein, may not remain visible much
longer. The willingness of these collectors of rare - and
out-of-copyright - records to share their treasured possessions in this
way is a beacon of light in an ungenerous world, the more so since
there would probably be little or no profit to be gained by reissuing
most of these old LPs as commercial CDs.
The material I have found does not quite amount to
Swoboda’s complete recorded output, but it would seem enough to get an
idea of his qualities. These enthusiasts are working from old LPs, not
master tapes, many of which may not have survived anyway. To avoid
repeating ad nauseam comments such as “the
reasonable for its age”, I shall discuss recording or transfer quality
only if it seems exceptionally good or a real stumbling-block to
appreciation of the performance.
I have not been able to provide exact dates for
these recordings. In a postscript I have shown the WERM edition or
supplement in which they are first listed. From this it can be seen
that a few of these recordings were on sale by April 1950, almost all
of the rest by the end of 1952. Swoboda’s recording career was
therefore intense while it lasted, but concentrated within a period
running from the end of the 1940s to the very early 1950s.
Baroque: Bach and prize-winning Vivaldi
Bach’s first orchestral suite
is a performance strictly of its time. The strings of the Winterthur SO
seem pretty numerous, there’s no continuo that I could discern and
little dynamic variation. It has a certain vibrancy in its favour (MMS-74).
Swoboda’s recording of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”,
on the other hand, has a number of claims to fame. The story is told in
several places on the internet, most fully at the Naxos site.
The violinist is Louis Kaufman, described
as one of the most recorded violinists of all time, on account of his
participation in hundreds of Hollywood film scores. Post-war, he moved
to Europe and gave a number of major premičres, including works by
Martinů and Milhaud. This was not, as sometimes stated, the first ever
recording of “The 4 Seasons”, having been predated by a version under
Molinari (1942). But it was the one that caught the popular
imagination, converting Vivaldi almost overnight from a peripheral
figure in the history books into a household name. It won the Grand
Prix du Disque in 1950 and entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002.
Billed as played by the “Musical Masterpiece
String Orchestra”, this was one of Swoboda’s few recordings set down
outside Europe, the band consisting of moonlighting members of the New
York Philharmonic playing in the Carnegie Hall. And moonlighting is the
word, since the recordings were set down after midnight during the last
week of 1947 - the venue was fully booked at all other hours. At the
time, Kaufman was unaware that these concertos were the first four from
a set of twelve. On learning this he embarked upon a quest to Europe
and, on the advice of Malipiero, tracked down an early edition of the
complete set in Brussels. His recordings of the other eight, in 1950,
belong to another story since the conductor was Clemens Dahinden.
The revised edition of “The Record Guide” (1956)
tells us that “Louis Kaufman has made a special study of the stylistic
problems involved in playing Vivaldi’s music”. The many violinists who
have made such studies in more recent years have not, however,
concluded that the historical sources justify a rich vibrato and a
degree of swooping portamento that might now be considered bad manners
in Max Bruch. Similarly, we would today expect a harpsichord continuo
all through. At first, there seems to be no continuo at all. An organ
appears in the far distance in “Summer”, to rather spectral effect - I
seem to detect it at times in “Winter” too. A harpsichord suddenly
turns up in “Autumn”, strumming away with its lute stop during the
middle movement. Combined with Kaufman’s swooning approach and the lush
NYPO strings, the effect is as ripely romantic as anything Respighi, or
even Rodrigo, ever imagined. Most modern ears will get the idea they
are not listening to real Vivaldi at all but concertos “in the old
style” by Respighi or another early 20th century
post-romantic. On the other hand, it is all marvellously imaginative
and alive. This goes for Swoboda just as much as Kaufman. Few versions
since have had the same capacity as these to astound and involve the
listener. Their place in the history of recorded music, and in the
revival of the Italian baroque, would seem unquestioned (MMS-56).
WERM shows that Swoboda set down a few more concertos from the Italian
Pre-Classical: C.P.E. Bach and Carl Stamitz
Swoboda showed at least a passing interest in the transitional period
between baroque and classical. In a “piano concerto” in A
minor by C.P.E. Bach, the pianist Franz
- to use the spelling on the disc label - and the conductor seem
uncertain how to treat this music and content themselves with a
generalized liveliness. Listeners today are likely to find, in
alternation, passages where the modern grand piano works surprisingly
well and others - probably the majority - where it doesn’t convince at
all, possibly because the pianist seems to feel the same way.
On the other side are two symphonies - H.663
These are musically much more interesting than the concerto, indeed
fascinatingly unpredictable. Swoboda seems much more convinced here,
inspiring the Vienna SO to play them with fire and real point (Westminster
LPG 8324, rec. 27 July 1950).
The Vienna SO also plays a Sinfonia Concertante in F
by Carl Stamitz.
This proves an amiable piece and rather more than that in the middle
movements, which go very nicely. Swoboda puts plenty of vim and vigour
into the tutti passages of first movement but lets the tempo slacken
when the unnamed soloists enter, somewhat dissipating the effect. The
same happens in the finale to a lesser extent (Westminster
WL-50-17, rec. 19 December 1949).
Haydn and Mozart: Haskil and some notable
In a coupling of Haydn’s symphonies 77 and 78,
very likely first recordings, no.77 gets an unhurried but lively
performance, with a beaming, good-hearted appreciation of the music.
The ensemble of the so-called Concert Hall SO is far from tight at
times. No.78 is a tougher, minor-key work and gets a suitably vigorous
For the Musical Masterpieces Society, Swoboda led the Netherlands PO in
a popular coupling of Symphonies 94, “Surprise” and100,
After a thoughtful introduction, no.94 is much lighter and jollier than
was the norm at the time, with infectious rhythms and a real bounce to
the minuet. In 100 he goes beyond mere jokiness. The “military”
instruments impinge on the innocent lilt of the second movement and the
jollity of the last with brutal, devastating effect. In this symphony,
Swoboda opts for a very relaxed minuet. Two very fine performances (MMS-59).
With harpsichordist Hans Andrae, violinist Peter Rybar and the “Concert
Hall SO”, Swoboda also recorded Haydn’s double concerto
As often with Haydn, a concerto seems less interesting than most of his
symphonies. It doesn’t help that it is played in a very formal, rococo
style that seems to stem from the harpsichordist, whose rigid,
heavily-registered (and closely recorded) playing negates the advantage
of having the “proper” instrument (CHS-1081).
Swoboda in Mozart inevitably evokes the name of Clara
Haskil, whom he accompanied in the concertos K.459
In the former, Haskil’s unruffled, seemingly laid-back but somehow very
“complete” performance needs an orchestra of like refinement. Swoboda
does his best, coaxing light Papageno-like textures from the Winterthur
SO in the first movement and assisting the soloist’s gentle
expressiveness in the second. In K.466 Haskil offers calm, poised
playing in a concerto which would seem to demand something more, yet
with an inner light that makes it convincing in its own terms. Swoboda
goes along with the soloist’s view very skilfully and the orchestra
plays better than in K.459, perhaps because the piece itself was more
familiar to them (Westminster LPG 8329, rec. 1
Haskil was not the only distinguished soloist to record Mozart with
Swoboda. Mozart’s Flute Concerto K.314 gets a
lovely performance from Aur čle Nicolet,
in which Swoboda and the Winterthur SO fully share. However, while the
flute is well caught, the recording is congested and distorted in
tuttis so one is bound to prefer later recordings by this flautist (MMS-87).
The gem of Swoboda’s Mozart concerto recordings, though, is that of K.413
with the pianist Artur Balsam,
who combines outward calm with inner vivacity and superbly pointed
characterization. This is one of the finest performances of a Mozart
piano concerto I have ever heard. After a slightly bland opening,
Swoboda and the “Concert Hall SO” provide real collaboration, not just
backing (CHS-1116). This team also set down K.415,
which I have not been able to hear.
On his own, Swoboda gives a vigorous, fiery performance of the brief Symphony
with a nicely paced central section. There is some poor intonation from
the Vienna SO wind at times and the oboe’s recorded tone is a little
odd (Westminster LPG-8321, rec. 1 December
gets a lovely performance from the Vienna State Opera O. Though not
lacking in energy, the abiding impression is of an unhurried, old-world
graciousness. The recording is incredibly reverberant (MMS-75).
With the same orchestra, Swoboda gives a totally different sort of
performance of Symphony 34.
An upfront first movement has fiercely jabbed accents and a fairly
staccato style, abetted by raucous (as recorded) oboes and trumpets.
The second movement has a Gluckian serenity at a quite flowing tempo
while the finale is a knockout - a real presto, finely controlled (no
actual rushing). Overall this fiercely passionate performance is
uncomfortable but extraordinarily stimulating (MMS-65).
The one common feature between this latter and Symphony 35,
with the Netherlands PO, is a sense of great conviction. This is a
slowish performance, majestic and stately but well-phrased and
rhythmically alive. The leisurely gait illuminates in particular the
lead into the recapitulation in the first movement. The second movement
is lovingly tended (MMS-75).
The Netherlands PO also play Symphony 40.
This has well judged tempi, allowing drive in the outer movements but
not so speedy as to disallow properly breathed second subjects. The
second movement has an attractive, stately flow. By unerringly avoiding
the many pitfalls of this symphony, Swoboda actually came up with one
of the best versions of the early LP era (MMS-65).
With the Vienna SO and unnamed soloists, Swoboda gave an unhurried,
elegant performance of the Concertone in C.
Alas, here caution is in order. The LP copy used by the European
Archive uploader has both repeating and skidding grooves up to the
middle of the first movement. One can only hope that a better source
will emerge for this likeable performance (Westminster LPG 8321).
The extreme contrast between Swoboda’s individual performances of Haydn
and Mozart, and in particular between the latter’s 34th
symphonies, is fascinating but puzzling. Did his own mood swing from
one performance to another? Or did he have strong views on the
different characters of the single symphonies? WERM shows that he set
down several other symphonies by both composers, generally from among
the lesser known ones. It would be interesting to hear them.
Beethoven and Schubert: Haskil again and a Beethoven premiere
Concerto with Haskil
and the Winterthur SO is another Swoboda recording that has remained in
the general view. Haskil plays with surprising command where Beethoven
forces her to do so, notably in the first movement cadenza and the coda
to the last movement. There are moments in the outer movements where
she veers towards the merely agreeable. On the whole, though, she stays
the right side of the divide between the understated and the
insufficiently stated. The slow movement is certainly inspired. Swoboda
backs her very well. The orchestra is not the world’s greatest, but
today’s HIP-conscious world may look more favourably on its reduced
size than critics did at the time (Westminster WL 5057).
For the Musical Masterpieces Society, Swoboda set down the first
recording of Beethoven’s oratorio “Christ on the Mount of
(the second was Scherchen’s for Westminster). Conducting the Vienna
Chamber Choir and the Vienna State Opera O, he gave a well-paced, vital
account - the opening orchestral introduction shows him as a
Beethovenian of good pedigree. The soloists were all members of the
Vienna State Opera. The soprano and tenor, Margit Opawsky
and Radko Delorco, perform well, though it can be
heard that the bass, Walter Berry,
was the one with something extra - both his tone and his phrasing are
that much more focused. The recording becomes distorted under the
impact of the final chorus but is otherwise fair for the date (MMS-2024).
Schubert’s First Symphony,
with the Winterthur SO, also seems to have been a recording premičre -
the first edition of WERM shows no other version. It has an imposing
introduction followed by a lithe, energetic Allegro. The finale, too,
has excellent spin and the orchestra is on best form. The second
movement is mobile and lyrical while the minuet is slow and majestic (MMS-2).
Schubert’s Rondo in A for violin and strings was a
slightly odd coupling for Lalo’s Violin Concerto. Miriam
Solovieff, of whom more under Lalo, gives the overlong piece
a well-turned performance. The Vienna State Opera O plays (CHS-1143).
Romantics: Some treasurable Dvořák
To judge from his performance of the Serenade no. 1, Brahms
was not a composer who brought the best out of Swoboda. This is an
enthusiastic, rambunctious if messy affair in which the “Concert Hall
SO” appears to have a thin complement of strings. The first movement
tears away, dropping the pace in second subject territory and the third
movement goes at an uncomfortable speed similar to that for which
Boult’s late recording has been much criticized. This approach works
best in the finale. The second movement, however, is steady and
galumphing, allowing the syncopations to tell. This would be my one
motive for returning to the performance. The uploader at the European
Archive had a poor copy, with a jumping groove in the third movement
and the fifth faded out just before the end, presumably to disguise
some intractable problem (CHS-1087). WERM also lists
a recording of the Second Serenade under Swoboda.
Much more pleasure is to be had from Goldmark’s “Rustic
with the Vienna State Opera O. Surprisingly, this lively, well-turned
performance was by no means a first recording, Robert Heger having set
it down in 1931, and it had the misfortune to be followed only about a
year later by a classic version under Beecham (CHS-1138).
Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony “Polish”
- already had a number of recordings to its credit, starting with
Albert Coates’ of 1932, though the second edition of “The Record Guide”
(1955) lists it - without enthusiasm - as the only one available in the
UK at that time. The outer movements have good energy levels while
lyrical themes are affectionately shaped. The playing, by the Vienna
State Opera O, is pretty scrappy at times, especially in the finale
where Swoboda rightly drives his players regardless of whether they
know the notes. Missing is a sense of symphonic sweep. This is arguably
lacking from Tchaikovsky himself in this early work, but conductors
such as Markevich have managed to create an impression that it is
present after all. A goodish recording which has served its day (CHS-1139).
Another fairly rare Tchaikovsky piece set down by Swoboda was the Souvenir
Played with the full complement of the Vienna State Opera O strings,
this sextet original sounds bottom- and middle-heavy, with the upper
strings sometimes unrelated to the rest. The orchestra’s less than
immaculate playing is also a drawback. Against this is to be counted
the fine passion and real conviction Swoboda brings to the proceedings (Westminster
Swoboda’s Czech birth and studies with Talich would suggest he had a
natural authority in Dvořák.
He conducted the first recordings of the third and
fourth - then unnumbered - symphonies. I have been
able to hear only the former.
The glory of Dvořák’s Third Symphony
is its first movement. Swoboda does reasonable justice to it.
Transitions have some scruffy playing from the Vienna SO, suggesting
this was not much more than sight-reading-plus, but the proper
conviction is there. The second movement is admittedly too long for its
own good, but Swoboda’s fast tempo - 09:59 compared with Neumann’s
14:43 (his analogue cycle) and Smetacek’s expansive 16:28 - sounds
merely perfunctory. The music just doesn’t breathe. The finale could be
more dashing - Swoboda takes 09:15 as against Smetacek’s 07:34 - but it
is lively and buoyant and Neumann took a similar view - 09:22. The
second recording of this symphony, by Smetacek (pub. 1961), was
certainly preferable, but at least Swoboda left his listeners in no
doubt as to the splendours of the first movement (Westminster
Completing this disc is the Scherzo Capriccioso.
Here Swoboda understood perfectly Dvořák’s heady brew of impulsive
panache and nature poetry - the central theme is memorably introduced.
The hardworking VSO struggle at times and the recording is somewhat
Swoboda seems to have been the first to set down Dvořák’s
overture-cycle “Amid Nature”, “Carnival” and “Othello”
as a sequence, though they had all been set down singly by both Talich
and Kubelik. They show Swoboda at his finest. The performances breathe
the sort of total identification with Dvořák’s poetry that we find in
old-world Czech maestros such as Sejna. It is easy to believe here that
Svoboda was a pupil of Talich. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra is
superior to the VSO in the Scherzo Capriccioso and the recording, apart
from compressed dynamic range in fortes, is reasonable for its age. A
Dvořák record to cherish alongside the early Supraphons. It was
completed by the Nocturne for strings, lovingly
With the Winterthur SO, Swoboda set down a relaxed, yet vital and
passionate performance of Dvořák’s Czech Suite
Another possible recording premičre was of Verdi’s 4 Pezzi
recorded with the Vienna Chamber Choir and the Vienna State Opera O -
the date would have to be checked of the Aachen version under Rehmann
which entered WERM at the same time. As most collectors know, Viennese
choirs in the early 1950s used a strong vibrato in the female
department which doesn’t always please English listeners. This is a
matter of taste, obviously. Some will find it more “Verdian” than the
typical “straight” English choral sound. Granted that this is how they
sing, only in a few tough passages are the sopranos momentarily
unsteady or below pitch. In general, this is finely nuanced,
disciplined singing. Swoboda would appear to have had considerable
gifts as a choral conductor. Furthermore, his interpretation has an
authentically Verdian mix of devotion, fervour, fire and drama. For as
long as things stay under a mezzo forte, the recording copes well,
allowing more detail and a better choral-orchestral balance than one
might expect for the date. Above mezzo forte, the dynamics are clawed
back and distortion reigns. This is obviously most serious in the Te
Deum which, one dimly realizes, is actually getting a glorious
performance. This is a case where whoever holds the original master
tapes - if anyone does - might profitably investigate their quality.
The performances themselves must be among the best these works have
Lalo’s Violin Concerto -
not to be confused with the “Symphonie Espagnole” - was a first
recording and there haven’t been all that many since. The soloist, Miriam
would deserve an article to herself in this series if we had a few more
discs to remember her by. Born in San Francisco in 1922, she was a
family friend of Oscar Shumsky, whose son Eric she taught in Paris in
the 1980s. Most of the little information available, in fact, is to be
found at Eric Shumsky’s site - he considers her a “great violinist and
a superb teacher”. One incredible piece of information he gives us is
that, while Miriam was still a child prodigy, her father murdered all
her family in front of her. She herself narrowly escaped, after which
her father took his own life. Her mother, on her deathbed, pleaded with
Miriam to go ahead with her New York debut, planned for the city’s Town
Hall a few days later. Miriam did this, with great success.
During the 1960s, Solovieff recorded the Brahms
violin sonatas with Julius Katchen, but suffered some kind of breakdown
towards the end of the sessions, which were never completed or issued.
Apparently private copies exist. Katchen later set down these works
with Josef Suk. Apart from the Lalo/Schubert coupling, she can be heard
playing the violin solos in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” in the
Vanguard recording conducted by Mario Rossi.
In the Lalo, Solovieff and Swoboda, conducting the
Vienna State Opera O, caress winningly the lyrical moments of the
concerto, give the dramatic gestures in the first movement their full
weight and evidently enjoy the finale. In the second movement at least
they convince me they’ve struck gold (CHS-1143).
MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto,
issued in 1952, has been claimed as a premičre, though the version by
Sanromŕ appeared earlier in the WERM listings. The pianist was Alexander
(b.1929), an Austrian artist who made quite a few recordings in the
1950s and then concentrated on teaching. Both Jenner and Swoboda,
conducting the Vienna State Opera O, agree to make the work sound as
much like proto-Rachmaninov as possible - it actually predates any of
the Rachmaninov concertos. Slightly later Vivian Rifkin, with her then
husband Dean Dixon conducting, set down a more lyrical performance, and
a little more mercurial in the central scherzo. Both artists prove
their point persuasively (CHS 1137).
The first commercial recording of Bruckner's
Issued in 1950 and played by the Vienna SO, Swoboda’s Bruckner
deserves special treatment, and not only because it was the first
commercial recording of this work. Earlier versions listed on John
Berky’s Bruckner site - from which the Swoboda can be downloaded - are
Furtwängler (1943, lacking the first movement) and Georg-Ludwig Jochum
(1944). These were commercially issued only later.
Swoboda’s remains sui generis in a number
of respects. At 10:12 the scherzo is very nearly the slowest ever.
Berky gives longer timings only for Charles Adler, 1952 (10:38) and
Atsushi Takahashi, 1995 (10:16). Colin Davis came close in 2002
(10:02). Typical timings from conductors with a particular reputation
in this music are 07:37 (Furtwängler 1943), 07:51 (Haitink 1970), 07:52
(Karajan 1979), 07:55 (Jochum 1966), 07:58 (Jochum 1978), 08:02
(Steinberg 1970), 08:18 (Celibidache 1991), 08:34 (Horenstein 1963),
08:36 (Haitink 2003), 08:48 (Wand 1996), 08:52 (Solti 1979), 08:55
(Tintner 1995), 09:23 (Klemperer 1964) 09:48 (Rosbaud 1961). One is
initially taken aback as Swoboda digs into the repeated low As at the
start, rather like Barbirolli launching Mahler 6. High caution in a
work the orchestra didn’t know very well? I don’t think so. On other
recordings of other music, Swoboda showed himself capable of pitching
in with a dashingly fast tempo, regardless of whether the orchestra
could play all the notes. He certainly plays this as if he means it.
More than anyone else, he recalls Deryck Cooke’s maxim that, behind all
Bruckner’s fast tempi, there’s an underlying slow tempo. The scherzo,
as Swoboda sees it, is in the triplet quavers, which go at about the
speed of a typical Beethoven scherzo. The backdrop to this scherzo is a
trudging, menacing nocturnal landler. Taken on its own terms, I find it
terrifically, even terrifyingly, convincing.
The second movement is another interesting case,
timed at 21:10. Longer versions come from Celibidache 1991 (different
performances from the same year vary from 22:01 to 22:40) and, very
marginally, Takahashi 1995 (21:12). The “typical” conductors listed
above come in at 12:43 (Klemperer Concertgebouw 1961), 14:42 (Klemperer
1964), 15:45 (Wand 1996), 16:15 (Steinberg 1970), 16:20 (Furtwängler
1943), 16:50 (Horenstein 1963), 16:55 (Davis 2002), 17:02 (Adler 1952),
17:08 (Jochum 1966), 17:19 (Haitink 2003), 17:25 (Haitink 1970), 18:20
(Rosbaud 1961), 18:36 (Jochum 1978), 18:46 (Tintner 1995), 18:58
(Karajan 1979), 19:22 (Solti 1979). Those who feel that Klemperer’s
1964 studio recording - I haven’t heard the live Concertgebouw one -
takes this movement too fast for the wailing oboe theme near the
beginning to have its proper space will rejoice in Svoboda’s long-drawn
opening. Moreover, he maintains it nobly, justifying it with phrasing
of heart-felt warmth, rather than rarefied spirituality
Celibidache-style. I didn’t find it hung fire. Indeed, while I
immediately noted that it was slower than Klemperer - the latest I had
listened to - I was astounded to find it was considerably slower than
everyone else too, except Celibidache.
If the conclusion so far is that Swoboda liked his
Bruckner almighty slow, there are surprises in store in the outer
movements. It is true that his first movement, at 15:16, is broader
than Steinberg 1970 (14:53) and identical to Haitink 1970 and Karajan
1979 (both 15:16). On the other hand it is swifter than Haitink 2003
(15:56), Horenstein 1963 (15:59), Adler 1952 (16:04), Jochum 1978
(16:11), Rosbaud 1961 (16:28), Wand 1996 (16:30), Jochum 1966 (16:31),
Davis 2002 (16:55), Celibidache, 1991 (17:02), Klemperer 1964 (17:02),
Tintner 1995 (17:02), Takahashi (17:35) and Solti 1979 (17:41).
Similarly his finale, at 13:59, is longer than Furtwängler 1943
(12:14), Steinberg 1970 (13:05), Jochum 1966 (13:20), Haitink 1970
(13:27), Jochum 1978 (13:35), Klemperer 1964 (13:48), Wand 1996
(13:57), but faster than Rosbaud (14:04), Adler 1952 (14:17), Haitink
2003 (14:39), Horenstein 1963 (14:39), Tintner 1995 (14:44), Davis 2002
(15:02), Celibidache 1991 (15:08), Karajan 1979 (15:13), Solti 1979
(15:14) and Takahashi (17:36). In short, if Swoboda hasn’t turned
tables in the first movement to produce the fastest performance of all,
he’s not far off, while his finale is round about average. The most
striking conclusion is that, while “slow” conductors are usually slow
in all movements, and “fast” conductors are usually fast in all
movements, the fact that Swoboda belongs to the first category in the
middle movements and to the second in the outer movements means that
the symphony has completely different proportions in his hands compared
with all others, the long-drawn, epic slow movement and gauntly
iconoclastic scherzo flanked by warmly flowing, far from monumental
The issue of tempo relationships in the outer
movements is also fundamental. In particular, how to interpret the
direction “Bedeutender langsam (considerably slower)” for secondary
material in the first movement. Horenstein and Rosbaud are two who take
the extreme solution of exactly halving the tempo. Swoboda relaxes in a
more natural way. Indeed, one is struck both here and in the finale by
the conversational ease with which he slips in and out of the different
tempi, all the time maintaining the long line, the structural goals
well in view. This is noble, instinctive Bruckner conducting in the
Schuricht mould, though Schuricht - whose interpretation of the 6th
seems not to have survived - would surely have done the middle
movements very differently.
casual visitor to the Berky site, measuring Swoboda’s unusual timings
against his almost non-existent reputation as an interpreter, might
assume this first recording of the work to have been a brave but
misguided attempt by a conductor who didn’t really know what he was
doing. Such an assumption does not withstand actual listening. The
performance is completely convincing, though it must be admitted that
problems of balancing and ensemble, especially in the first movement,
have not all been overcome. The recording is pretty good for its date (Westminster
On its first issue, the symphony spread over three sides and the set
was completed with Bruckner’s settings of Psalms 112 and 150.
Twentieth century composers: Hindemith, Ibert, Kodály
Swoboda’s discography extended to a number of middle-of-the-road
then-contemporaries. In Hindemith’s “The Four Temperaments”
piano concerto the soloist was Franz Holletschek.
It was coupled with the fourth
“Kammermusik” concerto, in which the violin
soloist was Peter Rybar.
“The Four Temperaments” is likeably done; “Kammermusik” no.4, surely
the more significant work of the two, is played with strong conviction.
Neither performance is immaculate, both offer the sort of
unexceptionably musical presentation of a contemporary work that radio
stations have been adept at providing down the years (Westminster
The Ibert disc starts disappointingly with a
raucous - in the wrong way - and ill-balanced rendition of the “Divertissement”
by the Winterthur SO which substitutes hearty vigour for Gallic wit.
The last two sections suffer least, but the gendarme’s whistle is
inaudible. Conductor and orchestra seem better attuned to the breezy
charm of the “Capriccio”, a less ironic work that
comes over like an unbuttoned piece of Ravel. Even the recording seems
Better still is the “Suite Elizabethaine”,
recorded in Vienna on 26 October 1950 with the women’s voices from the
Vienna Academy Chamber Choir and the Vienna SO. There is also a soprano
solo taken by Emmy Loose. This is a delightful piece, assembled from
music Ibert wrote for a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It
incorporates old English themes, and the Westminster chimes, in a sort
of Respighi-meets-René Clair confection. The Viennese forces are not
immaculate but they seem to be enjoying themselves (Westminster
The major item on the Kodály disc is the rousing Te
Deum. It is given with suitably Slavonic fervour by the
“Vienna Choir” and the Vienna SO. Sieglinde Wagner,
Rudolf Christ and Alfred Poell
sing well, while on the soprano line Sena Jurinac
provides all the luscious soaring tones one might expect. The recording
copes up to a point but climaxes often degenerate into inchoate noise,
from which only the trumpets stand out. Jurinac fans who don’t know the
work are warned that the soprano part only amounts to a few minutes.
This disc is completed by the Theatre Overture.
Kodály wrote this, quite unnecessarily most people think, for a later
production of Háry Janos. It is too long and ramshackle in its
construction, but the performance is lively and affectionate (Westminster
WL 50-1). These both seem to be first recordings.
In Martinů’s Concerto for Double String
Orchestra, Piano and Timpani, the rather surprising soloist
is Artur Balsam.
The “Concert Hall Society Orchestra” give an energetic, gutsy
rendering. The recording doesn’t give the timpani much of a look-in.
There are a couple of brazen tape-edits (Concert Hall DL-9).
century composers recorded by Swoboda, but which I haven’t been able to
hear, include Janacek, quite a lot more Martinu, Milhaud, Prokofief,
Roussel and some Americans.
In the Harvard Crimson interview referred to
above, Swoboda stated that he had been “a revolutionary all my life -
always for the avant-garde”. However, he ridiculed the latest
developments from Stockhausen. The picture we get is of a capable
musician with wide sympathies and a far from predictable approach to
the few works from the regular repertoire that we have from him. The
strong differences between his performances of the different Mozart
symphonies, for example, may remind us of Hermann Scherchen. Bearing in
mind that the Westminster label, of which Swoboda was a founder, ended
up by promoting Scherchen far more than Swoboda himself, we may wonder
if this conductor, rather than Swoboda’s early teacher Vaclav Talich,
might not have provided Swoboda with a role-model.
Postscript: Recording Dates
are not usually given by the download sources and may not be known.
Listings in the World Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music (WERM) at least
indicate the latest possible date of issue:
WERM First edition (cut-off date April 1950)
BRAHMS: Serenade 1
HAYDN: Concerto for harpsichord, violin and orchestra, Symphonies 77
MOZART: Piano Concerto K.413, Concertone, Symphony 23
SCHUBERT: Symphony 1
VIVALDI: The Four Seasons
WERM First Supplement (cut-off date May-June 1951)
CPE BACH: Piano Concerto in A minor, Symphonies in C and D
BACH: Suite 1
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto 3
BRUCKNER: Symphony 6
DVORAK: Symphony 3, Scherzo Capriccioso
IBERT: Divertissement, Capriccio, Suite Elizabethiane
KODALY: Te Deum, Theatre Overture
MARTINU: Concerto for Piano, Timpani and Double String Orchestra
MOZART: Piano Concertos K459 & K266
WERM Second Supplement (cut-off date December 1952)
BEETHOVEN: Christ on the Mount of Olives
DVORAK: Overtures “Amid Nature”, “Carnival”, “Othello”, Nocturne, Czech
GOLDMARK: Rustic Wedding Symphony
HINDEMITH: The Four Temperaments, Kammermusik 4
LALO: Violin Concerto
MACDOWELL: Piano Concerto 2
MOZART: Symphonies 29 & 34
TCHAIKOVSKY: Souvenir de Florence, Symphony 3
VERDI: 4 Pezzi Sacri
WERM: Third Supplement (cut-off date December 1956)
HAYDN: Symphonies 94 & 100
MOZART: Flute Concerto K314, Symphonies 35 & 40