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Robert Denzler (conductor)
The Decca Recordings
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855–1899)
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20 [31:50]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892–1955)
Symphony No. 3 ‘Symphonie Liturgique’ [30:10]
Chant de joie [5:38]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Benvenuto Cellini Overture [10:23]
Béatrice et Bénédict Overture [7:08]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 [41:40]
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris (Chausson, Honegger)
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Berlioz, Tchaikovsky)
rec. 1954-60
First releases on CD except Honegger
ELOQUENCE 4840262 [2 CDs: 127:21]

It’s regrettable that Robert Denzler’s (1892-1972) commercial discography is meagre, which makes this release of his complete Decca recordings all the more valuable and welcome. All except the Honegger items are first CD releases. He was born and trained in Zurich and received some private tuition in theory and composition from Volkmar Andreae, chief conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra. He then went on to train as a concert pianist at the Cologne Conservatory. Whilst there he became a répétiteur at the Cologne Opera, and this opened the door to a conducting career. He initially worked as a musical assistant at the Bayreuth Festival under the conductors Hans Richter and Karl Muck. From 1925 to 1931 he ran an annual Wagner Festival in Geneva in cooperation with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. In the early 1930s he moved to Berlin and then to Zurich, later encountering problems due to his Nazi allegiance during the war years. He championed and premiered much new music, including Berg’s Lulu and Hindemith’s Mathis and Maler. He was also a prolific composer. He died in Zurich in 1972.

Chausson was only 44 years old when he tragically died as the result of a bicycle accident. Thus ended the life of a major French talent. His Symphony in B flat is modelled on the three-movement format of César Franck’s D minor Symphony, not surprising really as the elder composer was his mentor. Chausson’s wonderful score, imaginatively wrought, superbly crafted and colourfully orchestrated, is a work I’m very fond of, and it’s been the beneficiary of some powerful advocacy form the likes of Charles Munch, Paul Paray, Pierre Monteux and Dimitri Mitropoulos. Denzler’s reading can hold its head proud in such exalted company. It has all the compelling potency of Munch’s 1962 traversal, which has always headed my list of favorites. It has a great sense of atmosphere and drama, and the orchestra are well-rehearsed, evident in the discipline and detail of the playing. Tempo changes are deftly managed, which can be problematic in some performances I’ve heard. The central Très lent is particular effective for its sensuousness and yearning. It’s a stereo recording and the sound quality is first rate.

The Symphony No. 3 ‘Symphonie Liturgique’ is one of of Honegger’s finest works and probably the best-known of his symphonies. Penned in 1945-46 in the aftermath of World War II, to a commission from the Foundation Pro Helvetia, it was premièred in Zürich on 17 August 1946 with Charles Munch conducting the Suisse Romande Orchestra. Each of the three movements is titled with a liturgical text taken from the Catholic requiem mass. The opener is named after the Dies Irae, the slow movement is titled De Profundis Clamavi, and the finale bears the title Dona Nobis Pacem. The work contemplates the ravages of war, but also looks to the future with hope. The first movement is nicely paced and I’m won over with the careful build up of tension to register maximum impact. The slow movement is meditative and expressive. A marching theme, tenacious and unyielding, eventually succumbs to a lyrical coda in the finale. Though mono, the recording allows for the rich orchestral detail to emerge. The brief Chant de jolie dates from 1923. An upbeat score, it showcases some burnished brass and diaphanous woodwind sonorities.

Denzler offers a convincing and compelling Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. A stereo recording, warm strings and stentorian brass invest the performance with a kaleidoscopic array of ravishing hues. Tempi sit just right and romantic fervour and angst is sensitively apportioned and balanced. There’s no wallowing. The Scherzo is airy and light on its feet, with sufficient high octane in the finale to seal the performance’s fate.

Two very contrasting Berlioz overtures compete the collection. Benvenuto Cellini is very grand with plenty of swagger, whilst Béatrice et Bénédict is more texturally light. Denzler, in both cases, delivers flamboyant and polished performances which are rhythmically charged.

All in all, this is a very desirable collection that restores Denzler’s name to the radar.

Stephen Greenbank

Recording details
rec. La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, France, 15 & 16 June 1955 (Honegger: Symphony No. 3), 17 June 1955 (Honegger: Chant de joie), 14–16 May 1956 (Chausson); Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, May 1954 (Berlioz), October/November 1960 (Tchaikovsky)
Mono (Honegger, Berlioz)
Stereo (Chausson, Tchaikovsky)


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