Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tod und Verklärung
Carl A. Bünte, cond; Berlin SO
BELLA MUSICA 312450, mono (71:46) Live: Berlin
This rather strange release combines two live concerts by a German conductor not well
known in America. Carl-August Bünte (b. 1925), a conducting pupil of Sergiu Celibidache, was appointed chief conductor of the Berlin Symphony at the early age of 24 and remained its music director for the next 24 years (though the orchestra was slightly renamed in 1967). I could not find any previous release of either of these performances on CD online.
After having suffered through a number of brand-spanking-new, digital and surround sound recordings of the
that have about as much life to them as an overcooked pancake, it was absolutely thrilling to hear Bünte’s interpretation. Here is a man who understands every note, every phrase, every fiber and thread of this symphony. This performance, in my estimation, is even better than that of Mitropoulos with the New York Philharmonic, which I praised so highly when it was reissued. It is a reading on the exalted level of Munch with the Chicago Symphony (the stereo recording, not the mess in mono) and Pierre Monteux’s early 78-rpm version with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris. In fact, Bünte’s phrasing and slightly-nudged rhythmic impetus in the third movement (“Scene in the field”) is even better than Monteux’s, maintaining interest in this very long and sometimes rambling piece.
The problem, alas, is the sound quality. Taken from an old radio tape that was obviously not engineered to the highest standards, the orchestra sounds covered and muddy despite Bünte’s extremely fine detailing. In the first movement, there is also some tape noise that evidently could not be filtered out completely. This automatically places this recording in the category of historical interest only and not something for mass consumption, which is a great pity. (Despite the muddy sonics, however, I believe that in the last movement the
theme is played by bass tubas and not by serpents or ophicleides, as were originally designated.)
Alas, the sound quality doesn’t get much better for Strauss’s
Tod und Verklärung.
Many critics consider this to be a crude and/or inferior work of Strauss, but to my ears it is an extremely interesting composition when played by an exceptional conductor. Bünte, like Strauss himself and Toscanini, was clearly one such, although I felt that his performance here was rushed somewhat by comparison with the spacious, expansive version that Toscanini left us with the La Scala Orchestra. Still, Bünte again brings out a wealth of detail, and his overall conception of the work is as fine as any I have heard.
An odd release, then, and one recommended largely for musicians and collectors, but recommended just the same.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 by Hector Berlioz
Written: 1830; France
Date of Recording: 10/22/1955
Length: 50 Minutes 19 Secs.
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 by Richard Strauss
Written: 1888-1889; Germany
Date of Recording: 03/18/1961
Length: 20 Minutes 43 Secs.
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