Notes and Editorial Reviews
Few – if any – conductors are linked with the works of Richard Wagner in the eyes of the world’s music lovers to the same extent as Hans Knappertsbusch. Immediately after his conducting debut in Mühlheim/Ruhr from 1910 to 1912, he applied for a post as Assistant Conductor in Bayreuth. When in 1951 the famous festival reopened its doors, his name became legendary as the Parsifal conductor. The main focus of his concert programmes, however, was the works of the great Romantic nineteenth-century composers, especially Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner. Despite that subsequent generations have developed their own views on those works, Knappertsbusch’s recordings have retained their benchmark status to this day. Born in Elberfeld, now part
of the city of Wuppertal, in 1888, Knappertsbusch was Music Director at the city’s opera house before he went, via Leipzig and Dessau, to Munich, where he eventually succeeded Bruno Walter as General Music Director. He was no fan of the Nazi regime, however, and so he left Munich and went to Vienna to conduct the Philharmonic and opera, returning eventually to Munich, where he died in 1965, after conducting his last Bayreuth Parsifal the previous year. This release in the Knappertsbusch Edition features the symphonies of Bruckner and Brahms.
Few conductors on disc have generated as much excitement in Bruckner as did Hans Knappertsbusch. But there’s a catch: namely, which editions of the scores he used. In its excellent collection of Brahms and Bruckner symphony recordings, Profil fights shy of relating this information, so I’ll do it here: No 3 (rec Oct 1954; 1890 version, rev Bruckner with J and F Schalk; edn T Rättig); No 4 (rec Mar 1944; 1888 version, rev F Loewe; edn A Gutmann); No 5 (rec June 1956; 1896 version, rev F Schalk; edn Doblinger); No 7 (rec Aug 1949; 1885 version, rev Bruckner; edn Gutmann); No 8 (rec Jan 1951; 1892 version, rev Bruckner and J Schalk; edn Haslinger-Schlesinger-Lienau); and No 9 (rec Jan 1950; 1903 version, rev Loewe; edn Doblinger). As ever I’m profoundly grateful to John F Berky’s invaluable Bruckner discography for helping me sort out this minefield. And the upshot of this muddle in terms of listening? Very little when it comes to appreciating the sheer drama of Knappertsbusch’s conducting and the fervent playing of the orchestras involved, but Bruckner purists will likely run a mile. The Brahms performances are just as striking, the Scherzo from the Fourth Symphony less giocoso than forged from iron. Knappertsbusch’s Brahms has breadth, girth, muscle, patience and drama laid on the line. I love it – but be warned, it runs counter to that ‘Brahms-lite’ approach that many listeners nowadays seem to prefer.
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