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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Overture Leonora No.3 Op.72b [14.53]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.88 in G Hob 1:88 [22.10]
Paul DESSAU (1894-1979)
In memoriam Bertolt Brecht [14.48]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen [16.43]
Annelies Burmeister (contralto)
Berlin Staatskapelle/Masur
rec. live Royal Festival Hall, London, 17 November 1967 (Dessau, Mahler); The White Rock Pavilion, Hastings, 18 November 1967 (Beethoven, Haydn)

The works by Dessau and Mahler were the first half of the concert at the Royal Festival Hall that concluded with Bruckner's Symphony No.7 which was issued separately as OCCD CD6/2009 and reviewed by me recently. Having now heard the Dessau and Mahler I must say that was quite a concert, one which, if it were to be repeated, I would make a considerable effort to attend. Today the concert planners seem to be stuck in a rut as regards what to perform with Bruckner. It runs roughly like this: if programming Bruckner then the first half has to be a Mozart Piano Concerto. Those in doubt about my claim should check the concert listings for the past few years and they will see I am right rather too often. The other point they would discover is that no one now performs music by Paul Dessau. I wonder why? On the strength of this short but challenging work, which the audience receives enthusiastically, he should be played at least occasionally. The style is fairly dense and angular but not a lot more so than the likes of Hindemith, Blacher and Hartmann for example. One's interest is further piqued by the note on Wikipedia that, amongst other film music, he scored several early Disney cartoons! Dessau's three movement In memoriam Bertolt Brecht is partly derived from earlier stage music but is carefully structured to reflect the work of his friend and long time collaborator. Those interested should look at a detailed note by Laura Silverberg; the notes provided with this CD provide a brief background.

The rest of the disc is more common repertoire. The Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen are beautifully sung by Annelies Burmeister, who, incidentally, worked with Dessau on one of his operas. Personally I prefer a male voice for this unique cycle, after all Mahler specified a low voice and the poems were written by him for his then love Joanna Richter. The man is addressing the woman throughout. Hearing them with a female voice is fine musically but the words make a lot less sense. That apart, the performance is lovely and enhanced by the fact that Ms Burmeister does not have her own microphone and is thus balanced within the orchestra and not on her own in front. Masur encourages an exciting orchestral frenzy during the third song. The quiet end of the cycle, to the words Love and grief, my world, my dreams! is very moving. The Beethoven is rather grander than one might expect in these historically informed days, whilst the Haydn, a very slow largo apart, is delightfully characterful with particularly fine wind playing. Haydn's Symphony No.88 is always a pleasure.

Geoffrey Terry's recording reflects the two very different acoustics in which he was working. The Hastings venue sounds clear but dry and rather workaday, whilst the RFH sounds a little more alive. The fact that this is clearly audible in recordings half a century old shows how good they are. None of these works require large forces and this has helped to make the sound more relaxed than that on the Bruckner disc. I continue to be amazed at how natural it all sounds knowing that Mr Terry used only two microphones, probably because he does! As an honest reviewer I should note there is a tiny glitch in the recording in the first minute of the Beethoven. It is not a cause for concern.

The entire series continues to be very collectible. There is an indefinable frisson about a live concert performance with no post-concert edits. The obvious parallel to this series is the altogether bigger archive that feeds the BBC Legends issues. They too are occasionally imperfect but thrilling to hear. Can I suggest very quietly that the BBC could gain much by reducing their forest of microphones to a mere copse or even the two used here?

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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