Notes and Editorial Reviews
Good performances alive with historical frisson.
Is it or isn’t it? That’s the question posed by Tahra of this live performance of the Dvo?ák Violin Concerto. It was part of the huge batch of tapes returned to Germany during Gorbachev’s Perestroika; it’s elsewhere listed with unknown soloist, orchestra, conductor and date in a compilation of performances of the RRG – the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft. So the question is, obviously, who are they?
I won’t spoil your pleasure by summarising the reasons by which Taschner, the Berlin Philharmonic and Lovro von Matacic were selected – you can read it in the booklet and prima facie the reasoning is suggestive. It’s certainly known that Taschner loved the
work – in fact the opening bars of the slow movement were carved on his tombstone. He was also strongly associated with the work, because despite the name and the later course of his career, Taschner was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, studied in Prague and then led the State Theatre orchestra in Brno. According to the writer Norbert Hornig in The Strad several recordings of his performances of the work were erased. Perhaps this is one of them – returning unerased, to add to the store of RRG performances now restored to us. Independently I’ve not had to look too hard to find details of several prestigious performances he gave of it over the years –with Bernstein and the Vienna Symphony in 1948 for instance. The story of Taschner’s row with von Karajan over rehearsing the work may or may not be apocryphal – Taschner, Furtwängler’s leader, was the subject of a poaching attempt on behalf on von Karajan at the State Opera so there may be an element of conflation.
I’m not actually a huge admirer of Taschner, usually finding that his performances are good but not elite, a sort of super-concertmaster class. But it can’t be denied that he kept the best of musical company – with Gieseking one of his colleagues. So he was clearly amongst the most prominent violinists in Germany by the end of the war in the absence of the departed Busch and Kulenkampff. Again, though - is its Taschner? For what it’s worth it doesn’t sound like rivals. Kulenkampff was then, in 1942, the ranking German violinist in the country; he’d recorded the concerto in 1937 and was associated with Bohemian and Slavic works but it’s certainly not him. It doesn’t sound like Erich Röhn, who was more of a classicist and had a smaller, sweeter tone. It’s unlikely to have been a Berlin concertmaster predecessor such as Borries. It certainly sounds to be a player with Taschner’s rather fast vibrato and propensity – unusual amongst that generation of younger German violinists – for sometimes quite excessive portamenti (see his Bruch G minor performance).
The orchestral winds are distinctive as well – the principal flute’s second movement counter themes sometimes cover the soloist – so doubtless an expert could make an educated guess as to the players involved and also the hall acoustic. But it’s certainly a good performance, expressive in the second movement – much more so than Kulenkampff - and skilfully dextrous and exciting in the finale.
Tahra has already released one Taschner performance of the Khachaturian concerto with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin under Rother from September 1947 [Tahra 350/51]; here’s another. This time it’s with the NWDR Symphony Orchestra and Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt in 1955. Once more it shows Taschner’s affinities with music somewhat to the east of the Austro-German hegemony, a trait - as one has already noted - that he shared with Kulenkampff, who was Hanseatic, and inclined to be broad minded. Taschner’s way with the work is tensile and enjoyable though it’s certainly not the last word in tonal variety. He’s certainly not nearly as tonally arresting or rhythmically incisive as the two leading Russian exponents of the work, Oistrakh and Kogan. He finds poetic warmth in the second movement within certain rather limited expressive ranges but leads a spirited, fluent finale.
What’s not in doubt in any of this is the spirited commitment to Taschner’s art shown by Tahra, who have once again placed themselves at his service. You’ll doubtless enjoy the notes, which detail the process by which these players were selected as the most likely. And the performances are good too, alive with historical frisson.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53 by Antonín Dvorák
Gerhard Taschner (Violin)
Lovro von Matacic
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1879-1880; Bohemia
Date of Recording: Live 11/26/1942
Concerto for Violin in D minor by Aram Khachaturian
Gerhard Taschner (Violin)
Northwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1940; USSR
Date of Recording: Live 5/1955
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