Classical Reissue Reviews

Konoye – The Complete Berlin Philharmonic Recordings = MOZART; HAYDN; MUSSORGSKY – Hidemaro Konoye

The work of Hidemaro Konoye in Berlin proves competent, stylistic and forceful, given the political tenor of the period: 1937-1938.

Published on May 14, 2011

Konoye – The Complete Berlin Philharmonic Recordings = MOZART; HAYDN; MUSSORGSKY – Hidemaro Konoye

Konoye – The Complete Berlin Philharmonic Recordings = MOZART: Sinfonia Concertante in in E-flat Major for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, K. 297b; HAYDN: Symphony No. 91 in E-flat Major; German National Anthem; MUSSORGSKY: A Night on Bare Mountain; Traditional: Horst Wessel Lied; Traditional: Japanese National Anthem – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra /Hidemaro Konoye – Pristine Audio PASC 288, 62:16 [avail. in various formats from www.pristine] ****:

Viscount Hidemaro Konoye (1898-1973) came from a distinguished political family in Imperial Japan; and after his initial violin studies, he went to Europe to study with Vincent d’Indy in Paris and Franz Schreker in Berlin. His conducting teachers included Erich Kleiber and Karl Muck, associations cemented in 1924.  He made the premier electrical recording with the New Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo of the Mahler Fourth in 1930 [Wow!…Ed.]  and a 1931 Beethoven First with the La Scala Orchestra.

As reconstructed by engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante (4 January 1937) capitalizes on the extremely clear and accurate playing by the Berlin Philharmonic principals, of whom Alfred Buerkner’s clarinet and Oskar Rothensteiner’s bassoon prevail even with the consummate artistry of fellow soloists Erich Venzke, oboe and Martin Ziller, horn. The tempos in each of the three movements flow with easy grace, and the sense of Mozart’s most extroverted “outdoor” style never wanes or becomes lax. Konoye cuts the fifth variation of the last movement to accommodate the strange decision by Columbia to issue the originals on seven shellac sides while leaving a blank eighth side. [Ah hah, the Ultimate Mahler Adagio!…Ed.]  The transparency of texture and innate brio of the performance holds forth from the outset, and we feel Konoye’s delivery of the Viennese style has been gleaned by rich and vital studies.

Most of the repeats have disappeared in the performance (on Polydor, 21 April 1938) of the infrequent Haydn Symphony No. 91, but even from the slow introduction we feel an authenticity of style has not been compromised. Once the Allegro assai receives its impetus, the alternately vigorous and stately figures achieve a resolutely firm grip on our musical imagination. The warmth of the basses in the first movement as they swell over a decided tension in the BPO violins quite resonates with Haydn’s expansively contrapuntal ideas, the momentum controlled and articulate, especially as Haydn’s melodic line periodically interrupts legato phrases with gallops and minuet figures.  The Andante enjoys a pompous self-assured energy in its theme and variations, at least until an explosive burst in trills amidst the horn work seems to create a bit of controlled turmoil. The Minuet’s trio claims some fame as a real waltz by Haydn, a true precursor for Schubert and Weber. The last movement, a sonata-rondo, shimmers with a fixated energy, given the relatively monothematic content whose good nature rather bubbles with woodwind sunlight.

Whether we required a whirlwind performance of Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bare Mountain (Polydor, 21 April 1938) to compete with that made by Leopold Stokowski around the same period remains open for debate, but Konoye’s hair-raising inscription elicits from the BPO the kind of fierce tumultuous sinew we know from the likes of Oskar Fried. The trumpet work–including triple-tonguing–proves particularly engaging and virtuosic, the strings liquid in their ironic smiles and demonic invocations.  The spirits’ grudging dawn return to their graves conveys a willowy nostalgia, as required.

Tracks 9-11 contain music that qualified as “political contraband” until recently: anthems that celebrate National Socialism and Japanese Imperialism, they can only document musical loyalties that warrant apologies for the jingoism best enacted in cinema by Conrad Veidt, John Carradine, and Richard Loo.

— Gary Lemco

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