1933 Les chefs proscrits – Ernst Viebig, Conductor – Forgotten Records

by | Apr 14, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

1933 Les chefs proscrits – Ernst Viebig conducting works by Rossini, Wagner, Josef Strauss I and II, Suppe, Flotow – Forgotten Records FR 2191 (76:30, complete contents listed below) [forgottenrecords.com] *****:

Among the many casualties of the advent of Nazism in Germany, musician and conductor Ernst Viebig (1897-1959) warrants attention, given his innate gifts for orchestral discipline and sonorous nuance.  Viebig was born into a racially mixed marriage, that of Fritz Cohn and Clara Viebig, although Fritz Cohn had already converted to Lutheran Protestantism at his marriage to Clara Viebig in order to spare his son disadvantages due to the Jewish name. Ernst bore the double name Cohn-Viebig until the parents applied for the name change for their son in 1914. The reason given was that Ernst wanted to join the army and hoped for a better advancement by giving up his Jewish name. The application was finally approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

Artistically, Ernst mastered the piano, even accompanying Albert Einstein’s violin! Viebig began his career as a successful bandmaster, composer and as musical director at the Electrola record Company. He worked as a music critic for newspapers. He obtained a job as a choirmaster at the Lübeck City Theatre, where he met and married the solo dancer Lieselotte Schmidt. When she left him, Viebig began a dissolute life, which sometimes made him forget the contractual obligations of his engagement, so that he was banned from working for a year by the German Stage Association. In 1924, his second marriage was to Irmgard Guerke, who was employed as a typist at the Viebig house. The marriage produced two children, Susanne (1923) and Reinhart (1926).

With the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933, the conditions for Viebig deteriorated. He was in constant danger of being arrested because of his membership in the Communist-based KPD and because of his “half-Jewish” descent. After having been interrogated by the Gestapo, he decided to leave Germany. On the information of Karl Hellwig, a migration helper for Germans in Brazil, Viebig decided to leave for Brazil. After a last meeting with his parents in the Eifel spa town of Bad Bertrich, he travelled via Amsterdam to South America.  There, Verbig’s creative powers seem to have dwindled, abetted by local publishers’ refusals to offer him editions of his work and his not receiving conducting venues.  His comparative obscurity is here alleviated by Forgotten Records, who restores 12 cuts with Verbig at the helm of several prestigious German ensembles; this, at a time when his colleagues would have numbered Erich Kleiber, Hans Knappertsbusch, Oskar Fried, and Wilhelm Furtwaengler. 

The Viebig collection opens with a witty and incisive performance of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture (23 January 1928) with members of the Berlin Philharmonic. The somewhat compressed edition Viebig uses manages yet to convey the plastic charm of the piece, its tense and voluptuous crescendos, and exciting colors. With the Berlin Philharmonic, Viebig leads a rare, 8-minute pastiche (rec. 21 August 1930) from Wagner’s Meistersinger, whose “Dance of the Apprentices” emerges after some passing love music.  A kind of “Beecham lollipop” follows, in the form of a curious arrangement of the Josef Strauss Austrian Village Swallows Waltz (21 August 1930), here set for piano and orchestra, reduced to under 3 minutes. The color effects remain, however, if only to make us wish Viebig and his recording company had bequeathed us more time.  The piano leads once more for Roses from the South (21 August 1930), and the result sounds as though we attend a classy tavern-emporium. The piano’s tinny sonority is met by lush BPO string work, and their rich utterance seems to inspire the keyboard to new riffs of lush, even jazzy, filigree. 

Another abridgement from this busy August 21, though less drastic, occurs with the Kaiser-Waltzer. Omitting the opening measures, Viebig initiates the main waltz theme, the bass sound a mite tubby. The upper voices, however, sing and lilt effectively, especially in the high strings, horns, and woodwinds. The forward motion, alert but rather literal, does not indulge in old-world luft-pausen a la Clemens Kraus, though a touch of portamento asserts itself. 

Forgotten Records recedes in time to 23 September 1926 for a crisply idiomatic Overture to Die Fledermaus with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. For the most part intact, the Overture enjoys bounce and flirtatious lilt, with smooth segues between its dramatic sections. Here, the feeling for Viennese gemütlichkeit invests the score with a coyly articulate sensuousness we miss in some of the more literal renditions. If we had to guess the conductor here, we might assume Erich Kleiber were in full throttle.  The last of the Johann Strauss II group, Eine Nacht in Venedig, Overture (21 February 1927), enjoys a rousing, mock-militant flurry to begin, the BSOO in quick-paced but sympathetic flourishes in operetta style. The orchestra’s rendering of the vocal line, swift but clearly enunciated, squeezes the Viennese-Gypsy charm and lusty panache in the score for all it is worth. 

From the session of 1 March 1927, we have a triptych from Franz von Suppé, two of which with the members of the BSOO and one, The Beautiful Galatea, with the Berlin State Orchestra. Cello and harp intone a lovely duet for the opening of Dichter und Bauer, in an abridged version that cannot compete in virtuoso scale with Willem Mengelberg in Amsterdam (1932) but still exhibits fierce energy in the storm section and a strong sense of ensuing, collective, lyrical ensemble. The sheer energy Viebig exacts proves reminiscent of contemporary Jewish conductor (who fled east, to the USSR), Oskar Fried.  For my personal favorite among versions of Leichte Kavallerie, Overture, I must confess to a predilection for Herbert von Karajan and his honed BPO. But for inherent, stylish militancy, this reading by Viebig has excellent pace, instrumental definition, and a solid sense of the gypsy influence that saturates the Suppé sensibility. The bass drum makes its presence felt, and the cavalry gallop has the requisite conviction. The coda’s superimposition of themes makes a rousing conclusion to a well-wrought urn.  A fervent, whirling rhetoric opens Die schöne Galathée, then moves to the horn, flute, and string statement of the love theme. The ensuing presto filigree enjoys a palpable schwung, sweeping us to main waltz tune, following a tiny ritard, for which we have all been waiting. Again, moments of old-world portamento insinuate themselves, for which we feel grateful. The waltz returns with renewed fervor, ff, and the exaltation and panache of the reading win us over in a virile coda.

From Friedrich von Flotow’s 1847 popular comic opera Martha, we have the Overture (28 October 1927), again with Viebig’s leading the BSOO. The music, filled with the rural colors of the Richmond Fair and the various scamperings of a masquerade, proceeds with deft determination and enthusiastic sympathy. The snare and triangle announce the lighter aspects of farce amidst the martial impulses that impulsively explode into the typical ironies of the genre. The coda generates a sense of jubilation and high spirits.  From Eugen D’Albert’s 1903 opera Tiefland, based on a Catalan play of 1896, we have Viebig and members of the BSOO (31 May 1928) performing a Grosse Fantasie, a potpourri of tunes arranged by Gustav Paepke (1853-1933). The two 78 rpm sides required for this extended morsel have been joined seamlessly by Eric Faleur. The restored sound, in toto, easily competes with the work we hear from masters Obert-Thorn and the Dutton engineers. We have discovered a fine conductor’s talent, unfortunately suppressed by the vicious political climate of his times.

—Gary Lemco

1933 Les chefs proscrits – Ernst Viebig

ROSSINI: La gazza ladra – Overture;
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Fantaise;
JOSEF STRAUSS: Dorfschwal aus Österreich Valse, Op. 165;
J. Strauss II: Rosen aus dem Süden, Op. 388; Kaiser-Walzer, Op. 437 (abridged); Der Fledermaus – Overture; Eine Nacht in Venedig – Overture;
SUPPE: Dichter und Bauer – Overture; Leichte Kavallerie – Overture; Die schöne Galathée – Overture;
FLOTOW: Martha – Overture; D’Albert: Tiefland, Grossse Fantasie

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Album Cover for Ernst Viebig - Les chefs proscrits

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