Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Overture, Op. 21 [12:58]
Incidental Music, Op. 61 [31:44] Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.8 in B minor Unfinished [21:08]
Dagmar Hermann, Ilona Steingruber (sopranos)
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Mendelssohn),
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (Schubert)/Clemens Krauss
rec. 1950 (Mendelssohn), 1951 (Schubert) OPUS KURA OPK7076 [65:50]
The bulk of Clemens Krauss’ commercial discography centred on his work with Decca. However, in the post-war years he made several forays into the studios of a couple of budget labels. The Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night’s Dream music, which derives from a Vox LP, previously put in an appearance on CD in 1991 on Tuxedo and in 2000 on Urania. As far as I know, Schubert’s Unfinished has, until now, never surfaced on silver disc. It was originally issued on an Amadeo LP, where it was paired with two Haydn Symphonies, nos. 88 and 93. Like many, I came to admire Krauss through his distinguished Richard Strauss recordings and his delightful excursions into the lighter Viennese fare of Johann Strauss II. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he spread his wings much further, and his interpretations of composers ranging from Haydn to Ravel have been much respected.
The enchanting Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an amazing achievement for any seventeen year old composer. Sixteen years later Mendelssohn returned to incorporate it into the incidental music he composed for the Shakespearean play. Krauss gets off to a fine start with the opening four woodwind chords stating ‘once upon a time …’. Once the scene is set we are transported to the magical world of the woods. Dancing fairies, magic and love suffuse this delectable score, and tempi and pacing throughout all seem just right. Bottom, the weaver, gets his head transformed into that of a donkey by the elusive Puck, and his "hee-hawing" is strikingly evoked by the strings. There then follow seven numbers of the incidental music from the original fourteen.
The Scherzo is crisply articulated and has a gossamer lightness. Then comes the first of two vocal numbers Ye spotted snakes. Dagmar Hermann and Ilona Steingruber are comfortably positioned in the overall sound-picture, and deliver an assured account. Their voices blend well and overflow with ardent lyricism. I’ve no enthusiasm for the Viennese natural F horn used in the Nocturne, which sounds coarse; maybe it’s an acquired taste. The Wedding March is rhythmically buoyant and not too weighty. The sopranos and chorus give an eloquent rendering of the finale Through this house, delicately accompanied by Krauss, who is always sensitive to the voice.
In the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished, unfortunately shorn of its exposition repeat, Krauss sets a steady pace in the opening measures. He emphasizes the darker aspects of the music. The cellos and basses have sufficient depth, and offer some deliciously evocative darkly hued tints. I am won over by the spontaneity of the performance, giving a feel of the music evolving and being newly composed. He achieves some powerful climaxes along the way. In the Andante con moto he contours the melodic lines eloquently with devotional intensity. There’s certainly nothing about this of stale routine; everything is uplifting and reverential.
Although not as prolific as some in the studio, as Tully Potter remarks in his accompanying liner-notes, there is a reasonable representation of Krauss's artistry to be had. Nevertheless, these two recordings help fill a gap. With access to well-preserved source material, K. Yasuhara’s expert transfers, amazingly quiet, breathe new life into these appealing recordings.