A Tribute to Hans Knappertsbusch
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan and Isolde - Prelude and Liebestod
Die Walküre; Act I
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, Op.58
Overture Leonore III, Op.72a
Birgit Nilsson (Isolde)
Claire Watson (Sieglinde): Fritz Uhl (Siegmund): Josef Griendl (Hunding)
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Knappertsbusch
rec. 1962, Wiener Festwochen; 1963, Theater an der Wien
Sound Format PCM Mono; Original Language German; Subtitles English, French, German, Spanish, Italian: Region Code 0, Picture format 4:3, DVD9 NTSC
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 109212 [152:00]

These two black and white filmed performances, given in consecutive years during the Wiener Festwochen of 1962-63 have made the rounds before but are now handily conscripted to do service as a single DVD paying tribute to Hans Knappertsbusch.

Taped at the Theater an der Wien, with the Vienna Philharmonic on hand, occasionally cumbersomely seated, the first performance starts with Leonore III. But before it begins so vociferous is the applause greeting Kna’s appearance that he has to stand again to receive it, aided by the orchestra’s leader, Willi Boskovsky, who deftly motions to the conductor that the applause is all for him. Typically granitic – the tempo, or something, causes the horns problems – the performance is also imbued with a powerful charge. The many audience shots reveal typically Viennese concentration.

It’s a shame that Arthaus has preserved so much inter-performance idling. It seems it’s real time as the piano is urged onstage and before Wilhelm Backhaus strides on to play Beethoven’s G major Concerto. A soloist encourages Kna to reach for his spectacles. Despite the rather metallic treble-focused ring of the audio, which somewhat over balances the piano’s aural perspective and which also rather alters the tone of the (over miked) flute, the performance is a real meeting of minds. This was their natural metier, and Backhaus is still on fine form. Vainly he tries to persuade the orchestra to stand to receive applause. The concert concludes with the Tristan Prelude and Liebestod - with Birgit Nilsson in resonant voice, enunciating the text with great clarity, Kna punching out his hands at climaxes.

The following year’s concert was Act One of Die Walküre. The picture here, oddly, is rather darker than for the previous year though it’s bright enough to note the decoration that Kna wears around his neck. The singers are Claire Watson, Fritz Uhl and Josef Greindl and they make a sympathetic trio, none an especially strident or expressively extroverted artist but responding well to the long-term architectural goals pursued by Knappertsbusch.

Even though the material has seen the rounds before, its new configuration may prove attractive, despite the clarity disparity and the fiddling about in the 1962 performance. There’s a decent booklet note.

Jonathan Woolf

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