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Hans Knappertsbusch & The Berlin Philharmonic - Complete RIAS Recordings

Knappertsbusch / Schubert / Beethoven / Bpo
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Audite   Catalog #: 21405   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Anton BrucknerFranz SchubertLudwig van BeethovenJohann Strauss Jr.,   ... 
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



HANS KNAPPERTSBUSCH/BERLIN PHILHARMONIC: Complete RIAS Recordings Hans Knappertsbusch, cond; Berlin PO AUDITE 21.405 (5 CDs: 355:30) Live: Berlin 1/30/1950; 1 2/1/1950 2


BRUCKNER Symphonies: No. 8; No. 9 (2 versions). SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished” Read more class="ARIAL12">(2 versions). BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8. HAYDN 2 Symphony No. 94, “Surprise.” TCHAIKOVSKY 2 The Nutcracker: Suite, op. 71a. J. STRAUSS II A Thousand and One Nights: Entr’Acte. 2 Die Fledermaus: Overture. Josef STRAUSS/J. STRAUSS II 2 Pizzicato-Polka. NICOLAI 2 The Merry Wives of Windsor: Overture. KOMZÁK 2 Baden Girls


Unlike the 12 fairly full CDs in the Audite set of Furtwängler recordings made by the RIAS between 1947 and 1954—released in 2009 and included in my Want List for that year—this box of recordings by Hans Knappertsbusch with the Berlin Philharmonic is comparatively thin. There are two live recordings made at the Titania Palace—two days apart in 1950 with very different programs—and three studio sessions. And one of those studio sessions documented the same program as the January 30, 1950, live performance, just two days before the concert. (The run-through and recording before the live event no doubt appealed to the rehearsal-resistant Knappertsbusch, and fit with the economics of the time. It does give an opportunity to hear how much two contemporaneous performances of the same works could vary under the legendarily spontaneous conductor’s leadership.) The other sessions came in January of 1951—the Bruckner Eighth—and January of 1952 for the Beethoven and an operetta excerpt. That, regrettably, was all that made it onto the high-quality 30-inch-per-second tape masters held in the German Radio archive. Changing tastes, other projects, and the ascendancy of Karajan soon after brought this collaboration to an end.


These original masters, of course, are the reason for this release. All of these performances have been available before, some in expert transfers by the likes of Tahra and Music & Arts, but none had access to the original tapes, and the additional clarity and dynamic range, and the lower distortion of these Audite transfers, are immediately attractive. While one could take exception to some of the equalization decisions—resulting notably in some wiriness of the high strings in the Bruckner and Schubert recordings—there is no gainsaying the extra detail that is revealed, the greater power of the climaxes, and the sense of ambient space now heard in these recordings.


Collectors of this artist’s work will know what to expect of the performances. The program notes make a theme of the expectation of slowness, and it is my own experience that Knappertsbusch has routinely been lumped with Furtwängler, Klemperer, and Celibidache as if these four represented some distinctly dilatory school of conducting. In truth, each of these conductors has given the casual listener reason for the slow tag—note Knappertsbusch’s somnambulant Munich Bruckner Eighth on Westminster—but as the more experienced collector will know, tempo is relative, and the impetuous drama of Knappertsbusch is nothing like the deep mysticism of Furtwängler, or the monumentalism of later Klemperer or Celibidache. Still, I am not sure that these recordings belie the stereotype for slowness in general. Knappertsbusch is often deliberate, especially to ears attuned to the quicker tread of present-day performances of these works. Listeners will find the Beethoven Eighth ponderous or profound according to their persuasion. The Haydn “Surprise” Symphony has a weightiness that rather mitigates its high spirits, regardless the enthusiasm of the playing.


The overall timings of the Schubert “Unfinished” seem unexceptional until one realizes that Knappertsbusch did not observe exposition repeats. The studio recording is the more conventional , if any performance by Knappertsbusch can be called that, a very pleasant but not highly distinctive performance. It is in the live performance of two days later that the musicians discover the full potential of Knappertsbusch’s approach, controversial as that may be. It is full of portent, dark and forbidding in the very moderate Allegro moderato : slow, especially at the start, but strikingly powerful. The Andante con moto is also rather unhurried, but with phrasing flexible and alive to the impulse of the moment.


His Bruckner, however, is anything but measured. Under the conductor’s impulsive and fluid direction, these performances breathe like a living thing. The performance times are mainstream—the annotator makes a point of their being generally faster than the “normative” Wand—but as with the Schubert, the overall tempos tell little. Within that basic timing, the conductor shapes the works compellingly, with extremes of tempo and many shadings of dynamics and texture. The effect is often exhilarating and, as at the end of the Adagio of the Ninth, quite moving. The studio version is shaped with comparative restraint, the tempos in general somewhat faster and less extreme. Two days later he takes his audience and the apparently telepathic—though not infallible—orchestra through an emotional roller-coaster of a performance that leaves the listener drained at the end. Risk-taking in live performances was this conductor’s modus operandi , and sometimes it failed to come together into a coherent vision. In this live performance of the Ninth, and in the similarly dramatic Eighth of 11 months later, the spontaneity pays off handsomely.


Lighter music is the other part of the offering here. Those who only know Knappertsbusch through his Bruckner and Wagner may be surprised to find that he shows an equal affinity for the waltz and polka. The concert on February 1, 1950, was what we would now call a pops concert. The one work of symphonic scope is the leisurely Haydn symphony. The rest consists of operetta overtures, a Viennese waltz, and ballet music by Tchaikovsky. As with the larger-scale works, there are liberties taken. At one point Knappertsbusch slows the Pizzacato Polka to a droll attention-getting crawl, and he starts the Komzák Bad’ner Madl’n waltz at a crawl and then pulls it about in a most willful way. Yet the audience loves it, judging from the included applause. At the very worst, listeners will feel that these and the other Viennese confections are loved to death, but I think most will find them charming. The same is true of the Tchaikovsky suite, which is slower than is the norm, but which remains very light on its feet.
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Another service that this release provides for the collector, besides making these recordings available in superior transfers, is to clarify their provenance. Previous issuers have had to guess a bit at dates—another concert of the Bruckner and Schubert on January 29, 1950, as it turns out, was not recorded—and there has been some confusion between the live and studio recordings. This is not a major issue for most listeners, who will be interested primarily in the sound and artistry. This set, in the former quality, supersedes all other releases of these performances. Anyone remotely interested in Knappertsbusch’s art or in the symphonies of Bruckner should add it to his or her collection post haste.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
The principal value of this five-CD set lies in conductor “Der Kna’s” Bruckner performances. You get two of the Ninth Symphony (one live, one studio broadcast) and one of the Eighth. The Berlin Philharmonic plays quite well. Ensemble isn’t as sharp as we’re used to today, but then this never was Knappertsbusch’s style. Most interestingly, his tempos aren’t slow at all; indeed, they’re quite quick in places, but he really knows how to build a climax. The codas of the Ninth’s first movement and the Eighth’s finale are positively cosmic, and his flexibility of pulse before he gets there is wholly personal and convincing. In short, for Bruckner fans, this set is essential, and the sonics are remarkably clean and listenable given their 1950-ish provenance. You also get two performances of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, quite similar to each other (also true of the Bruckner Ninths). The first movement is slow — not unusually so — and dark, with big, scary, romantic climaxes, while the Andante really is “con moto.” Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony is sloppy and ponderous, especially its finale, which trudges on for some eight minutes and features a main theme with an indeterminate number of notes on each appearance. Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony has one hell of a bang in its second movement, and while also slow and string-heavy, it survives the Knappertsbusch treatment much better than does the Beethoven. Knappertsbusch recorded Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite commercially for Decca; he obviously loved it. This performance is a bit more extreme, with a blazing Trepak and some very slow tempos that allow him to wring every drop of color from the work’s fabulous orchestration. It’s weird, but also compelling. Finally, there are the shorter pieces. Knappertsbusch loved conducting “light” music, and his delight is evident. He offers Nicolai’s overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, Komzák’s Bad’er Mad’ln and some terrific Strauss: the intermezzo from A Thousand and One Nights, the Pizzicato Polka and, best of all, a blazing overture to Die Fledermaus. Anyone who thinks that Knappertsbusch was invariably slow ought to hear the way he whips up the coda to a dazzling finish at the quickest possible tempo — without letting the ensemble fall to pieces. Neatly packaged, with excellent notes (that deal frankly and honestly with Knappertsbusch’s work during the Nazi period) and carefully remastered from the original RIAS tapes, these performances are all that we have from this particular source. Audite has done a beautiful job, and collectors of historical recordings will find much here to cherish.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1896; Vienna, Austria 
2. Symphony no 8 in B minor, D 759 "Unfinished" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Vienna, Austria 
3. Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
4. Indigo und die vierzig Räuber: Tausend und eine Nacht, Op. 346 by Johann Strauss Jr.
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Vienna, Austria 
5. Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor: Overture by Otto Nicolai
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Berlin, Germany 
6. Symphony no 94 in G major, H 1 no 94 "Surprise" by Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; London, England 
7. Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Russia 
8. Die Fledermaus: Overture by Johann Strauss Jr.
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Vienna, Austria 
9. Pizzicato Polka by Johann Strauss Jr.
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; Vienna, Austria 
10. Bäd'ner Mad'ln, Op. 257 by Karel Komzak II
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898; Czech Republic 
11. Symphony no 8 in B minor, D 759 "Unfinished" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Vienna, Austria 
12. Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Hans Knappertsbusch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1896; Vienna, Austria 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, WAB 109: I. Feierlich, misterioso
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, WAB 109: II. Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, WAB 109: III. Adagio: Langsam feierlich
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, "Unfinished": I. Allegro moderato
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, "Unfinished": II. Andante con moto
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108: I. Allegro moderato
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108: II. Scherzo: Allegro moderato - Langsam
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108: III. Adagio: Feierlich langsam, doch nicht schleppend
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108: IV. Finale: Feierlich, nicht schnell

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