Artur Bodanzky conducts = Works by WAGNER; MOZART; BERLIOZ; STRAUSS; OFFENBACH – Berlin State Opera Orchestra – Pristine Audio 

Artur Bodanzky conducts = WAGNER: Overture to Tannhuaser; Prelude to Lohengrin, Act I and Act III; Overture to Die Meistersinger; MOZART: Overture to Die Zauberfloete; BERLIOZ: Hungarian March from Le Damnation de Faust; THOMAS: Mignon Overture; OFFENBACH : Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld; SUPPE: Overture to Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna; J. STRAUSS II: Overture to Die Fledermaus – Berlin State Opera Orchestra/ Artur Bodanzky – Pristine Audio PASC 537, 75:51 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

The tireless recording engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn turns his attention to the legacy of Viennese opera conductor Artur Bodanzky (1877-1939), long associated with the operas of Richard Wagner.  With impressive musical credentials, Bodanzky received some “tutelage” from playing directly under Gustav Mahler, then serving as Mahler’s assistant. On a recommendation from another “modernist,” Busoni, Bodanzky in 1915 approached Arturo Toscanini at the Metropolitan Opera, where Toscanini hired him to direct German opera for The MET. Despite Bodanzky’s predilection for cuts in his chosen scores, his performances were preserved in “complete” renditions, on acetate discs that eventually made their way to LP editions that circulated among collectors.  For the present CD, Obert-Thorn assembles the 1927-29 studio recordings that supplement his Wagner overtures and preludes with Mozart, Johann Strauss, and selected French repertory pieces.

From the Wagner selections that constitute the entire commercially recorded output—opening with the Tannhauser Overture (1 May 1928)—we glean a strong sense of the melodic line, buttressed by a firm sense of pulse and a rich and vibrantly lean texture. The tempos remain brisk, with good, resonant articulation in the BSOO brass and strings. In his own time, Bodanzky found himself celebrated by Frederick N. Sard as “febrile and intellectual” in his approach, a man who “balances intellect and emotion.” The BSOO responds lithely to Bodanzky’s sudden onrushes of energy in Tannhauser, the tension between voluptuary indulgence and staid piety. The Bodanzky penchant for “tone volume that creates new modulations in color and texture” no less applies to his preludes to Lohengrin, Acts I and III (9-10 September 1927) which, among other effects, invoke “moonlit pianissimi.”  True to repute, the Act III Prelude revels in “sonority and power, the brass choir masses of sound that reveal a clear architecture.” Bodanzky reminds of the elemental, contrapuntal might in Wagner Die Meistersinger Overture (10 September 1927), interspersed as it becomes with lyrical musings on the power of music in itself.

The Mozart Overture to The Magic Flute (30 April 1928) possesses many traits that enjoy equally in the contemporary reading by Willem Mengelberg, in the flexible tempos and driven sense of line, what Rachmaninov used to call “the point.” As with Mendelberg, Bodanzky elicits a unity of effect, a homogeneity of orchestral tone that imbues an electric excitement to Mozart’s Masonic figures.

The French from Bodanzky contribution begins with the Berlioz Hungarian March (1 May 1929), which though articulate and rife with a nervous menace, does not compare with that splendidly illumined version by Monteux from San Francisco. From the same 1 May 1929 session comes the Mignon Overture of Ambroise Thomas, whose reading from Eduard van Beinum has remained a personal favorite. In the mode of his Lohengrin recording, Bodanzky achieves a fine transparency in the orchestral texture, with excellent support from harp and French horn. The infectious dance rhythms of the second half of the overture enjoy a debonair, idiomatically Gallic character. The two recordings of 29 April 1929 include the overtures by Offenbach and Suppe. The Offenbach combines pageantry with frisky, boulevardier wit. The woodwinds, harp, low strings, and solo violin weave a sure spell of enchantment prior to the devil-may-care, can-can antics that set the Moulin Rouge afire. No less athletic, the rousing Suppe overture proves Sard’s assertion that the “sustained sonority would have ravished the ears of Flaubert who vainly sought in literature what only music can achieve.”

From Suppe’s intimations of Vienna we at last sojourn to the “city of my dreams” itself, by way of the Johann Strauss Overture to Die Fledermaus (30 April 1928), which opens with a jubilant burst of energy and then segues into a suave Viennese lilt, rife with portamento. The ease of transition will remind many auditors of those other masters of this idiom, Clemens Krauss and Erich Kleiber. And directing these masterly recorded performances stands Bodanzky, what Sard describes as “the incarnation spirit of intelligence, refining and enameling the result.” The restorations from shellacs flow without a blemish.

—Gary Lemco

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