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Joseph Keilberth – The Romantic Aspect in German & Austrian Classics
rec. 1940-1962
PROFIL EDITION PH18019 [10 CDs: 609.24]

The 50th anniversary of the death of the German conductor Joseph Keilberth falls in July 2018. In commemoration the label Profil Edition Günter Hänssler has released this 10 CD box titled Joseph Keilberth – ‘The Romantic Aspect in German & Austrian Classics’. The box contains a collection of recordings from seventeen composers recorded between 1940-1962 using eight orchestras, most of world renown. The contents are a broad mix of overtures, preludes, four symphonies, three concertos and a number of other orchestral works but no vocal or choral works.

Conductor Joseph Keilberth (1908-1968) was born in Karlsruhe, Germany incidentally in the same year as Herbert von Karajan, but compared to more illustrious conductors he rather goes under the radar. The booklet notes point out that Keilberth was one of the generation of conductors who after the death of Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) continued to champion the Austro/German symphonic tradition.

Throughout his career Keilberth held prestigious posts at: Deutsches Philharmonisches Orchester Prag (1940-1945) (orchestra re-formed as Bamberger Symphoniker), Staatskapelle Dresden (1945-1950), Staatskapelle Berlin (1948-1951), Bamberger Symphoniker (1949-1968), Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg (1950-1959), Bayerische Staatsoper (1959-1968). He was a regular guest conductor notably with the Berliner Philharmoniker appearing at Salzburg and Lucerne festivals. A noted Wagnerian, in the early-to-mid 1950s Keilberth conducted regularly at the Bayreuther Festspiele and recorded noted Bayreuth Ring cycles. Keilberth had a heart attack and died in 1968 conducting a performance of Tristan und Isolde at Munich.

Of all the recordings on this Keilberth set I would guess that the most of them are available on CD on various labels; the Bruckner Symphony No. 9 and Beethoven Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’ are just two examples (I’ve checked the catalogue for most but not all of them). I imagine most of these recordings were produced by Telefunken the German electronics company. Unfortunately, there is only sparse documentation in the accompanying booklet but it does say that some recordings are being released on CD for the first time without being told which. Remastering has evidently taken place but it’s not clear if that refers to all or some of the recordings. What I can say is that around half of the recordings have various degrees of surface noise and there are a number of live recordings, all with various levels of some extraneous noise. By my rough estimation around a third have relatively cloudy sound and other minor sound issues such as fierceness at the top, sour winds and glassy strings, another third have acceptable sound where the faults don’t over intrude, and the other third are of good quality sound. I have to say that overall the orchestral balance is most satisfactory. The sound issues I have highlighted on this set are not untypical of this type and age with recordings that are now between fifty-six to seventy-eight years old.

The first CD consists of six overtures and a prelude. The finest is the overture to Weber’s Der Freischütz which is given an exciting performance of dark foreboding. There is pleasing clarity and especially lovely sounding horns. On CD 2 there is a Schubert overture, the Symphony No. 8 ‘Unfinished’ with a laboured second movement and Bruch’s ubiquitous Violin Concerto No. 1 which is beautifully played by Georg Kulenkampf but the recording from 1941 is let down by annoying surface noise. Standing out here on CD 3 are two excellently played and recorded works by Reger Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.A. Hiller and Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin both played by the Bamberger Symphoniker. It’s a shame I don’t come across these Reger works more often in concert. An all-Brahms programme is contained in CD 4. The Symphony No. 2 is played impressively by the Berliner Philharmoniker although the sound is just a touch thin and lacking in bloom. The Academic Festival Overture and Tragic Overture are performed with drama by the Bamberger Symphoniker and the benefit of reasonable sound. On CD 5 there are two splendid Schumann works. The Piano Concerto is impressively played by soloist Anne Fischer followed by vibrant and often dramatic playing of the Symphony No. 4 from the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester. The feature work on CD 6 is Beethoven Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’ given a fresh and appealing performance of real quality by the Bamberger Symphoniker. The companion work the rarely encountered Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart is given yet another impressive performance.

Pfitzner works are contained on CD 7. The playing of the pair of Preludes from the opera Palestrina didn’t impress me too much and I found it a relatively hard listen owing to pedestrian performances and distracting sound. The Piano Concerto, another work I don’t often see programmed, is played with verve by soloist Rosl Schmid yet curiously although the sound is reasonably clear the overall performance feels and sounds curiously dated. There is only reasonable interest for me on CD 8 but there is some merit and reasonable sound quality. There are lively performances of the Hermann Goetz overture to The Taming of the Shrew and Peter Cornelius's overture to The Barber of Baghdad. Quite brilliant are the characterful and vibrant performances of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances No’s 1, 3 and 10 and Reger’s attractive Ballet Suite by the Bamberger Symphoniker is compellingly played. An all-Wagner programme is contained on CD 9 but it’s an unevenly played and recorded one. Disappointedly the only work that I find inspiring here is the Act 1 Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with playing that generates real drama by the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg. A Bruckner specialist, Keilberth, during the years 1945/49, was said to be the first to conduct the entire cycle of Bruckner symphonies in their original versions. Here on CD 10 Keilberth conducts Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 with the Berliner Philharmoniker live at the Salzburg Festival in 1960 using the original version of 1894, edited by Leopold Nowak (1951). Keilberth delivers an assured and gripping performance that contains breadth and considerable dramatic contrasts. In the booklet, apart from a track listing and a concise biography of Keilberth, there is virtually no other information which is disappointing.

This set of mainly traditional Austro-German repertoire is rather a mixed bag although there are some fine performances. Apart from committed Keilberth devotees I can see relatively little general interest. Those who need a Keilberth set will probably be better obtaining the twenty-two CD box ‘Joseph Keilberth - The Telefunken Recordings 1953-1963’ part of the ICON series on Warner Classics.

Michael Cookson

CD 1 [54.22]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Overture - Der Freischütz
Berliner Philharmoniker
Recorded 1958
Overture - Oberon
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester
Recorded 1953
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Overture - Die Zauberflöte
Wiener Philharmoniker
Recorded 1960 Live Salzburg
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Prelude - Ariadne auf Naxos
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester
Recorded 1954
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Overture - Coriolan
Overture - Fidelio
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1960
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der fliegende Holländer
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Recorded live 1955
CD 2 [58.11]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Overture – Rosamunde
Berliner Philharmoniker
Recorded 1960 live Salzburg
Symphony No. 8 ‘Unfinshed’
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1959
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1
Georg Kulenkampf (violin)
Berliner Philharmoniker
Recorded 1941
CD 3 [76.00]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.A. Hiller, Op. 100
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg
Recorded 1957
4 Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin, Op. 128
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Serenade in G major (Italian Serenade) arranged Max Reger for chamber orchestra
Deutsches Philharmonisches Orchester Prag
Recorded 1940/42 (Reger & Wolf)
CD 4 [64.19]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 73
Berliner Philharmoniker
Recorded 1962
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Tragic Overture, Op. 81
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1952 (Op. 80) & 1957 (Op. 81)
CD 5 [58.35]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor
Anne Fischer (piano)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester
Recorded live 1958
Symphony No. 4, Op. 120
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester
Recorded live 1952
CD 6 [72.24]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1960
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 132
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1957
CD 7 [56.04]
HANS PFITZNER (1869-1949)
Act 1 Prelude – Palestrina
Act 3 Prelude – Palestrina
Deutsches Philharmonisches Orchester Prag
Recorded 1940/42
Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op. 31
Rosl Schmid (piano)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester
Recorded live 1951
CD 8 [37.42]
Hermann GOETZ (1840-1876)
Overture - Der widerspenstigen Zahmung (The Taming of the Shrew)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Recorded 1955
Peter CORNELIUS (1824–1874)
Overture: Der Barbier von Bagdad (The Barber of Baghdad)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester
Recorded 1951
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance No. 3 in F major
Hungarian Dance No. 10 in F major
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1960
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Ballett-Suite, Op. 130
Bamberger Symphoniker
Recorded 1957
CD 9 [71.26]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Act 1 Prelude - Lohengrin
Act 3 Prelude - Lohengrin
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg
Recorded 1957
Overture - Tannhäuser
Act 3 Prelude – Tannhäuser
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Recorded live 1954
Act 1, Prelude - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg
Recorded 1957
Ride of the Valkyries - Die Walküre
Act 1, Prelude – Siegfried
Act 2, Prelude - Siegfried
Siegfried’s Funeral March - Götterdämmerung
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Recorded live 1953
CD 10 [60.21]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 [60.17]
original version of 1894, edited Leopold Nowak (1951)
Berliner Philharmoniker
Recorded 1960 live Salzburg Festival


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