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Staatskapelle Berlin
Legendary Eterna Recordings
Staatskapelle Berlin/Otmar Suitner, Günther Herbig
rec. Christuskirche Berlin-Schöneweide; 1989 (Bruckner);
No other recording details given
BERLIN CLASSICS 0301606BC [5 CDs: 339:33]

This 5 CD set celebrates the 450th anniversary of the Staatskapelle Berlin, with a selection of its finest and best recordings, focusing on the "Suitner era". There’s also a CD devoted to the work of Günther Herbig. All the recordings were made for the Eterna label and set down in the Christuskirche Berlin-Schöneweide.

Otmar Suitner (1922-2010) was an Austrian conductor who spent most of his professional career in East Germany. He was a prolific recording artist, and was particularly lauded for his recordings of Austro-German repertoire. His tenure at the helm of the Staatskapelle Berlin spanned the years 1964–1990, preceded by Frank Konwitschny (1955-1962) and succeeded by Daniel Barenboim (1992 until the present day).

It was in the music of Mozart that Suitner was highly praised, cultivating a style “with finely-chiseled articulation and spirited eloquence of sound”. The nine overtures featured on CD 1 are set out in chronological order, beginning with La Finta Giardinieri, through to La Clemenza di Tito, the sequence charting Mozart’s development as a dramatic operatic composer. The recordings, from around the late 1970s, are in superb sound. Suitner’s interpretations are seductive, warm and elegant. I admire his lightness of touch allied to a firm rhythmic control. Nothing ever sounds heavy handed and orchestral balance is always at the forefront of his mind. His tempi I would describe as lively.

CD 2 is devoted to Günther Herbig, whose renowned teachers included Hermann Abendroth, Hermann Scherchen and Herbert von Karajan. He worked with the orchestra in the early 1970s. He elicits some truly magical playing in Mendelsohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture and Incidental music. His affectionate account of the Overture benefits from the light and airy playing he draws out from the players. The Nocturne is particularly heart-warming and lyrically effusive. Joy and celebration are projected in the exuberant account of the Wedding March, and there’s much good humour to be savoured in the Dance of the Clowns. Herbig was an advocate of modern music, introducing composers such as Luigi Nono to subscription concerts. Here we get a taster with a riveting performance of Paul Dessau’s Orchestral Music No. 4, a work strident, angular and spiced with vibrant dissonance. Herbig works miracles weaving a colourfully embroidered tapestry of sound.

Otmar Suitner was a distinguished Brucknerian, and left recordings of several symphonies. The Seventh Symphony here dates from January 1989. The performance has nice moderate tempi, with a instinctive awareness of architecture, structure and orchestral balance. The Adagio is more expansive than some recordings I’ve heard, and I’m won over by Suitner’s beautiful shaping of lines. The Scherzo has a buoyant spring in its step. In the finale, the burnished brass register with stirring impact. The recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2  ‘Resurrection’ dates from the early 1980s and is in superb sound. The engineers have achieved first rate orchestral balance. No details are given as to the vocal soloists or the choral forces involved, but are likely to be Magdalena Hajossyova the Slovakian soprano and Uta Priew the German mezzo-soprano, with the Choir of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Surprisingly the performance is accommodated on a single disc, so tempi are on the swift side. Suitner takes a no-nonsense approach to the score, and steers clear of self-indulgence. The vocal contributions stand up to scrutiny very well; the soprano is particularly fine. "Urlicht" is rather on the brisk side, though, for my liking.

There’s a selection of less familiar repertoire, or ‘rarites’ would be a more accurate description. None I’ve heard before. Included are Hugo Wolf's Penthesilea. Structured in three movements, its orchestration is densely textured, but Suitner has that extraordinary gift of opening it out to reveal the colourful scoring that lies beneath. Pfitzner's incidental music to Heinrich Kleist's Käthchen von Heilbronn is more to my liking, lushly scored and richly romantic. The central Melodram has the lovers speaking over the music but again the singers are not acknowledged. A bit of ferreting around revealed they are Juliane Koren as Käthchen and Frank Lienert as Ritter vom Strahl.

There’s so much to admire in this collection, and it certainly gives ample proof what a marvellous conductor Otmar Suitner was. If I have one criticism, it is that I would have liked more detail regarding recording dates, venues and participating artists provided in the booklet.

Stephen Greenbank

Bruckner, Anton
Symphony no.7 in E major
Dessau, Paul
Orchestermusik no.4
Symphonic adaptation of Mozart's Quintet in E flat, K614
Mahler, Gustav
Symphony no.2 in C minor 'Resurrection'
Mendelssohn, Felix
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Incidental Music, op.61
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
Cosi fan tutte, K588
Der Schauspieldirektor, K486
Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, K384
Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), K620
Don Giovanni, K527
Idomeneo, Re di Creta, K366
La clemenza di Tito, K621
La finta giardiniera, K196
Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), K492
Pfitzner, Hans
Das Kathchen von Heilbronn, op.17
Strauss, Richard
Symphonic Fantasy on 'Die Frau ohne Schatten', TrV234a
Wolf, Hugo

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