Carl Schuricht in Paris = BRAHMS: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45; Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 – Claudio Arrau, piano/Elfriede Troetschel, soprano/Heinz Rehfuss, baritone/Orchestre National de France/Carl Schuricht
Tahra 678-679, (2 CDs) 66:44, 74:51 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The perennial itinerant conductor of the “old school,” Carl Schuricht (1880-1967), began his fruitful association with France in February 1949. He led French ensembles some eighty times, leaning heavily on his long familiarity with the German tradition. He became the first German conductor to lead all the Beethoven symphonies with a French orchestra, 1956-1958. His fondness for the Brahms A German Requiem could be ascribed to Schuricht’s own strongly Lutheran upbringing. The performance inscribed here by Tahra (10 February 1955) has Schuricht’s calling upon the resonant Swiss baritone of Heinz Rehfuss (1917-1988), with whom he had performed the Beethoven Ninth Symphony on 12-13 April 1949, 8-9 December 1951, and again 5 June 1953. Elfriede Troetschel (1913-1958) had been discovered by Karl Bohm and seemed destined for a great career, but she suffered an early death.
Schuricht’s tempos are relatively quick for the German Requiem, but the music does not lack flexibility and nuance. The graduated grandeur of the opening “Selig sind die da Leid tragen” quite enthralls us, right up to the closing riffs in the harp. The funereal march-waltz “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” mounts with an ineluctable sense of dark destiny, tympani and symphonic brass in regal form. Rehfuss intones the introspective “Herr lehr’doch mich” with plaintive power, the tympani part and low woodwinds in full sympathy, and the rhythm the very source of the Dvorak Cello Concerto first movement. The huge pedal point on D in fierce counterpoint above explodes in thrilling effect in the manner of the Last Trump. Spiritual relaxation prevails in the purely choral movement, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen.” Troestschel’s voice seems a bit frail and brittle for her part, a detached, white tone emanating from her that weakly recalls Teresa Stich-Randall. Schuricht, however, rebounds athletically with the fateful “Denn wir haben hier. . .” whose victory over mortal fear resonates in the German form of Death, where is Thy sting? When the old man gets his forces moving, the effect becomes indisputably electric, and Rehfuss himself appears consumed by the fervor of the moment. Schuricht indeed saves his most broad, valedictory vision for the last movement, “Selig sind die Toten,” the baritones particularly plangent with spiritual resignation, a grand sigh of consolation.
The collaboration (24 March 1959) with Chilean virtuoso Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) proves most felicitous, their having opted for a dramatically expansive reading whose liquid lyricism informs every measure. Arrau’s execution of the first movement cadenza bespeaks a world of consummate Beethoven interpretation, the arpeggios one step away from a performance of the Waldstein Sonata. The shapeliness of Arrau’s phrasing of the E Major Largo proves intimate and intelligently alert, as per expectation. Always the tiger, Arrau lithely pounces on the Rondo, and Schurucht catches the same fire, contributing a militant and flexible accompaniment.
Long a Schuricht staple, the Brahms E Minor Symphony (24 March 1959) carries its own valedictory ethos, active and muscular without sacrificing the lachrymose affect that invests its rising and falling thirds. Given the linear motion and propulsion of the opening movement, it maintains a tragic aura immediately palpable, easily rife with the noblesse we hear in Bruno Walter. The contrapuntal texture prior to the coda bears us away in an elemental sweep of chromatically agonized colors. The Phrygian sympathies of the Andante vibrate with fluid, burnished resignation, an orchestral counterpart to autumnal elements in the Requiem. The Scherzo by Schuricht has the sinewy capacity to shock us with its sudden departure from melancholy. A whirlwind passacaglia ensues, hardly indicative of “old bachelor music” on the composer’s part nor of the age of our interpreter. The variants flow as strings of an unbroken necklace, the flute variation particularly arched. Fine horn ensemble from the French ensemble, the sonority quite within the confines of a lay cathedral, and then back to a mighty, superheated restatement of the main theme. Schuricht absolutely sounds like Koussevitzky as the music mounts and cascades to its inevitable climax, the figures bounced and throttled as they ascend Parnassus. Simply one of the few superb Brahms readings collectors are bound to relish for 2010.