Notes and Editorial Reviews
GEWANDHAUS ORCHESTRA EDITION, VOLUME 1
Hermann Abendroth, cond; Gewandhaus O;
Günther Ramin (org);
Adolf Steiner (vc)
QUERSTAND 1109 (75:03) Live: Leipzig 3/5/1940;
Cello Concerto in C,
This fascinating disc demands at least as much attention for the background of the recordings as for its musical program. Querstand has packaged the CD within a small hardcover book whose text, along with many rare photos, details the history of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in the first half of the 20th century, focusing on its radio broadcasts. The Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk, known as “Mirag,” began broadcasting Gewandhaus concerts on January 1, 1930, with a program conducted by Bruno Walter containing Reger’s Organ Fantasy, op. 40/2, played by Günther Ramin, a cantor of Leipzig’s Saint Thomas Church; Mozart’s
; and Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony.
Walter was expelled from his position as the Gewandhaus Orchestra’s conductor in 1933 because he was a Jew. His successor, Hermann Abendroth, was known, according to Johannes Forner, a historian of the orchestra, for “his knowledge of works beyond the usual concert repertoire, his solid and craftsmanlike technique, and his unconditional striving to place himself at the service of the music,” all of which is borne out by these unmannered, polished performances. The appearance of Abendroth’s name in 1944 on the
, a list of “divinely blessed” artists approved by Hitler, made him politically suspect after the war, but Querstand’s annotator believes that “we should bear in mind that he exploited his fame to prevent his musicians from being conscripted.” It’s also worth noting that the orchestra’s programming was not controlled by Abendroth, but by Nazi policy that forbade the performance of all works by or connected with Jews or composers from “enemy states.” The regime’s request that the orchestra seek out forgotten works by sanctioned German composers explains the revival of Humperdinck’s
, and possibly also the D’Albert and Strauss works on this disc.
The 1940 recording of Richard Strauss’s
documents the acoustics of the concert hall of the New Gewandhaus, built in 1884, and it is the only existing recording of its Walcker organ, an instrument on which Bruckner gave an inaugural recital. It is one of a small number out of thousands of Mirag’s recordings made from cumbersome wax discs—a complex and precarious process in use until 1940—that survived the war.
Starting in 1940, magnetic tape replaced shellacs and made it possible for Mirag to record longer works in far superior sound; however, the advances in recording technology coincided with increased conscription into the military, the centralization of broadcasting in Berlin, and severe cuts to Leipzig’s radio budget. By 1941, Gewandhaus broadcasts had stopped. In 1942, the Propaganda Ministry ordered the Leipzig radio station completely shut down, and in early 1944, the New Gewandhaus was hit by aerial bombs.
Soon thereafter, with concert activity officially discontinued, both the Dresden Staatskapelle and the Gewandhaus Orchestra were reorganized as radio orchestras. The performances of the D’Albert Cello Concerto and Humperdinck’s
come from recording sessions held in an unheated, cramped ballroom in the Leipzig suburb of Gohlis, with some of the musicians playing borrowed instruments. Microphone cables led to an outside broadcasting unit in the street and listeners could tune in to a Friday-evening program at 5:15 called, unironically, one supposes,
Music for the Twilight Hour.
Eugen D’Albert (1864–1932) appeared at the Gewandhaus as a composer, pianist, and conductor for more than four decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps the highlight of his career there was the concert of January 31, 1895, when he played both of Brahms’s piano concertos under the composer’s direction—it was Brahms’s last visit to Leipzig—this despite D’Albert’s advocacy of the New German School of Liszt and Wagner. (For readers interested in D’Albert’s pianism, I highly recommend an in-depth essay, “The Centaur Pianist” by Mark Mitchell and Allen Evans, liner notes for an Arbiter recording, available online.)
D’Albert’s very worthwhile three-movement cello concerto from 1902 is a tuneful, energetic work with a busy, difficult cello part, and this appears to be its only available recording. Soloist Adolf Steiner struggles a little with some awkward-sounding passagework and is occasionally below pitch, but plays well overall. He’s recorded in a natural sounding balance with the orchestra. (The booklet notes, quoting Fred K. Prieberg’s
Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933–1945
, tell us that Steiner played with his brother Heinrich in the Steiner Quartet, which “provided a musical framework for the speeches of Joseph Goebbels.”)
Humperdinck, like D’Albert, is known to most of us as the composer of one first-rate opera—
Hansel and Gretel
, respectively. Sections of Humperdinck’s well-orchestrated but rather languid
from 1898—a half-hour piece in three movements with programmatic titles—had been performed by the Gewandhaus under Arthur Nikisch in 1910. Abendroth’s 1945 broadcast was its first complete performance, and after learning about the conditions of the recording, I have special admiration for the orchestra’s beautiful, refined playing and the notably clear recorded sound. The slow, high violin melody in the first piece, “Tarifa: Elegy at Sunset,” sounds like Parsifal wandering around the Strait of Gibraltar, austere and atmospheric, though I must agree with the 1910 reviewer who called the second piece (“Tangier: A Night in a Moorish Café”) “almost entirely lacking in the sparkling vitality it might be expected to have.” It’s still an accomplished, rare work, as are the D’Albert and Strauss pieces presented here. The historical performances are musically satisfying, and Querstand’s overall package is a highly valuable yet chilling document.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
Festive Prelude for large orchestra and organ, Op. 61 by Richard Strauss
Günther Ramin (Organ)
Date of Recording: 03/05/1940
Venue: Großer Saal des Neuen Gewandhauses
Length: 10 Minutes 25 Secs.
Cello Concerto in C major, Op. 20 by Eugen D'Albert
Adolf Steiner (Cello)
Date of Recording: 11/06/1944
Venue: Live Concordia-Festsaal, Leipzig-Gohlis
Length: 24 Minutes 0 Secs.
Die maurische Rhapsodie by Engelbert Humperdinck
Written: 1898; Germany
Date of Recording: 03/12/1945
Venue: Live Concordia-Festsaal, Leipzig-Gohlis
Length: 40 Minutes 35 Secs.
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