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Debussy: Nocturnes, Jeux; Sibelius: Symphony No 6 / Rosbaud

Debussy / Rosbaud / Kolner Rundfunkchor
Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Ica Classics   Catalog #: 5109   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyJean Sibelius
Conductor:  Hans Rosbaud
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio ChorusCologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY Trois Nocturnes. Jeux. SIBELIUS Symphony No. 6 Hans Rosbaud, cond; WDR SO ICA 5109 (71:50)

Francis Poulenc is quoted on the front of the CD cover: “Music buffs believe that the greatest living conductor is Toscanini; musicians know that it is Hans Rosbaud.” Although I had heard the name, I was not familiar with this conductor’s work until a retrospective set appeared from DG in 2004. It included an entire disc devoted to Sibelius. The Read more notes with the issue above make the point that Sibelius was vastly unpopular among German avant-garde circles at the time (of which Rosbaud, as a champion of Schönberg and new music, was a part).

Peter J. Rabinowitz gave the DG box a rave review in Fanfare 28:5, which led me to it. One of Rabinowitz’s points was that this conductor did not have a recognizable style, unlike Stokowski and some other contemporaries. Rosbaud’s Sibelius sounded nothing like his Haydn—nor, in the case of the disc above, like his Debussy. He was a musician of wide sympathies and repertoire who seemed able to find the essence of each composer he tackled.

His Sibelius Sixth is earthy—partly because the strings have a strong presence in the sound picture (almost too raw at times), but also because Rosbaud underlines the relatively rare forte s. In his hands, the work registers as a genuine symphony and not an episodic symphonic poem, as it can sometimes seem. He has a clear idea of the work’s structure and gives a performance of true depth.

He is just as impressive as a colorist in the Debussy selections. The careful balancing of woodwind tones in “Nuages” is immediately striking, while “Fétes” bursts with energy and vitality in a way that eludes many conductors on disc. Jeux , a favorite Debussy score of avant-gardists—Boulez considers it a masterpiece—is given a detailed and, again, supremely well-balanced reading. Strangely enough the mono sound strikes me as smoother and less strident in the Debussy pieces, which were recorded in April of 1952, almost exactly two years before the Symphony in March-April of 1954. The sound is perfectly acceptable, in any case. At this stage of its life the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra still sounds provincial—it is no Berlin Philharmonic—but this release remains eminently recommendable for Rosbaud’s musicality and insight.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Nocturnes (3) for Orchestra by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Hans Rosbaud
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio Chorus,  Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897-1899; France 
Jeux by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Hans Rosbaud
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912-1913; France 
Symphony no 6 in D minor, Op. 104 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Hans Rosbaud
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1923; Finland 

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