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Michael Gielen Edition - Volume 1
Edda Moser (soprano); Sibilla Rubens (soprano); Julia Hamari (contralto); Ingeborg Danz (contralto); Werner Hollweg (tenor); Dominik Wortig (tenor); Thomas Moser (tenor); Rudolf Rosen (baritone); Barry McDaniel (bass); Edith Peinemann (violin); Antonio Janigro (cello); Jörg Demus (piano)
Rundfunchor Berlin; Chor der Württembergischen Staatstheater Stuttgart; Südfunk-Chor Stuttgart (SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart); Slowakischer Philharmonischer Chor Bratislava
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken; Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Michael Gielen (piano)
rec. various venues, 1967–2013
SWR MUSIC SWR19007CD [6 CDs: 430:32]

Many music-lovers know Michael Gielen (b.1927) only from his recordings, especially those of the Mahler symphonies. Most of his work, apart from a brief time (1980-1986) as Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, has been in Europe, and in particular with the radio orchestras of Saarbrücken and SWR. He retired in 2014 because of health issues notably declining eyesight.

His reputation rests on his keen musical intelligence. In his conducting, there is nothing routine – even the most familiar piece sounds rethought and fresh. This collection – which contains many first releases – mixes both live and studio recordings, revealing Gielen’s skill in both the familiar and less familiar works.

The Six German Dances of Mozart on the first CD, recorded live in 2013 — despite the labelling of the collection as 1967-2010 — and released for the first time, reveal qualities found in all the performances. Gielen has a habit of starting works gently, almost unobtrusively, as in the three Leonore overtures, but one quickly appreciates the cleanliness of the melodic lines and the rhythmic control. The same qualities are apparent in his 1975 recording of Three German Dances. Precise attention is given to phrasing and balance. In larger works, there is a sense that the pieces are considered as a whole. An overture such as Leonore II can be bitty – an episodic summary of the opera. This is not so here. There is an inevitability about the powerful conclusion.

An interesting prelude to the set is Gielen’s performances – on piano – of Bach.

Haydn’s music is a test of musicality – he can sound routine. Not so here. The opening of Symphony 95 is considered, but with weight and seriousness. There is nothing trivial; I am reminded of Klemperer’s wonderfully profound insights. This is not period performance, lightly tripping through the work as lesser examples of period performance sometimes do. There is more than one way to reveal the essence of great music. The thing here is to appreciate the performance on its own terms, without preconceptions, and a special beauty is revealed. It was the first time I had heard Gielen’s Haydn and I shall return to it.

The last two CDs are devoted to Schubert, and not the most familiar. There is no symphony here. The closest piece is the Andante from Brian Newbould’s reconstruction of a Tenth Symphony. I listened first to the music from Rosamunde. This begins more slowly than in Abbado’s justly acclaimed recording of the incidental music but has a delicacy and grace of its own. The three pieces here were recorded on separate occasions, and receive their first release. These are the work of a conductor who knows and loves Schubert.

Of special interest is Gielen’s arrangement of Mahler’s transcription of Death and the Maiden. This performance retains the clarity of the original four instruments but creates the opportunity for some greater contrasts in tone. The pace is not too rapid, but tension and interest is maintained throughout. Any transcription brings gains and loss – it is always a palimpsest – but here a palimpsest which is significant in its own right.

The Schubert Mass on the final disc is a performance which is simultaneously devout and informed. The Kyrie expresses well the yearning for mercy, voices and orchestra finely balanced. The Gloria begins with a true blaze of glory and has both fire and clarity. This performance, from 2010, reveals the range of Gielen’s skills, but skills used to reveal the music, rather than for their own sake. The set as a whole is a service to music.

Recording quality is slightly mixed, as one would expect from the variety of sources and times. Mastering is good, throughout, and there is nothing in the sound to detract from the enjoyment of these endlessly interesting readings. I look forward with keen anticipation to the next releases in the series.

Michael Wilkinson
Full Contents List
CD 1 [77.34]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue No.4 in C sharp Minor (Well-Tempered Clavier Book I)* [7.01]
Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft (from Kantate BWV 50)* [3.55]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D Major K.385 (Haffner)* [18.10]
Two Minuets with Contredanses K.463 (448c) [4.56]
March in D K.249 K.249 (Haffner) [3.20]
Three German Dances for orchestra K.605 *[5.55]
Il Trionfo delle Donne K.607 (605a). Fragment of a Contredanse* [0.55]
Symphony No. 30 in D Major K.202* [20.33]
Six German Dances for orchestra K.509* [12.10]
CD 2 [79.08]
The Magic Flute K.620 – Overture* [7.07]
Cosi fan tutte K.588 – Overture* [4.11]
Thamos, King of Egypt K.345 – Choruses and Incidental music* [41.17]
Symphony No. 36 in C Major K425 [26.04]
CD 3 [69.18]
Josef HAYDN (1732–1809)
Symphony No. 95 in C Minor *[20.40]
Symphony No. 99 in E flat Major [22.53]
Symphony No. 104 in C Minor [25.16]
CD 4 [78.58]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Coriolan – Concert Overture in C Minor Op.62* [7.17]
Overture Leonore I Op.138* [9.17]
Overture Leonore II Op.72* [12.45]
Overture Leonore III Op.72a* [13.36]
Triple Concerto in C Major Op. 56 *[35.33]
CD 5 [73.07]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Overture to Die Zauberharfe (Rosamunde) D.644* [10.34]
Incidental music to Rosamunde D797: No.9 Ballet music in G Major Andantino* [7.23]
Incidental music to Rosamunde D797: No.5 Entr’acte after the Third Act* [5.44]
Andante B Minor D963a No.2 [11.15]
String Quartet in D Minor (Death and the Maiden) D810 transcribed for string orchestra by Gustav Mahler, arr. Michael Gielen* [37.33]
CD 6 [52.27]
Intende Voci – Offertorium. Aria for tenor, mixed choir, organ and orchestra D963 [8.13]
Mass No. 5 A flat Major D.678* [43.56]
*First release



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