Preiser – Famous Conductors of the Past – 90679, Mono, 70:28 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Moravian by birth, then trained at Brno and Leipzig, Franz Konwirschny (1901-1962) had a natural affinity for Slavic music and for the pantheistic scores of Anton Bruckner. The Romantic Symphony receives expansive treatment on what was originally a Supraphon release from 1952 presented on two LP discs, LPV 122-123. The politics of the time, dictated by East German and Soviet authorities, could be repressive, but Konwitschny managed to amass a significant repertory of classical masters for his main charge, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The Czech Philharmonic’s naturally warm tone, honed as it was at that time by conductors Ancerl, Talich, and Sejna, flows forward in lyrically poised periods, the horns, flute, and strings prominent in all their bucolic splendor.
Much of the lyrical impulse in Bruckner is Viennese, especially as it takes its cues from Schubert and the Austrian countryside. The more directly Lutheran aspects of the broad Andante still find adornment as the underlying liturgical melos combines with a bower of natural fragrances. When the staggered motifs and pizzicati finally yield to the legato statement of the full theme, the clarion march assumes a stately, exalted gait, rife with pageantry. The slow tempos will remind Brucknerians of Knappertsbusch at several moments, the graduated transitions not the least of them. Konwitschny sheds the rhythmic restraints for the haunting sensibilities of the Scherzo, a lithe, muscular account not so far from the sinews of Mahler. Flute and horn punctuations, rising rocket figures in the winds and strings, make for a hearty whirl of energy. The almost hurdy-gurdy rusticity of the Trio section is pure, albeit leisurely, Breughel. Out of a churning mass of horn, string and wind ostinati and pedal point, the Finale whips up an imperious version of Wagner, rife with intimations of cyclic design.
Konwitschny takes the lilting march in small, persuasive steps, while the underlying pulse speeds up for an inexorable peroration of massive spiritual conviction. Subtle shades of color in the winds, horns, and strings for the second set of periods. This is Bruckner old-school; and if you like this composer in all the emotional panoply and indulgent, sectionalized motley of his eccentric palette, this is a Romantic Symphony for you. The mono sound notwithstanding, the efforts by the CPO horns to reach out and find transcendence is everywhere apparent in Konwitschny’s thoroughly stylized account.