Great Conductors in Rehearsal and Performance = Karel Ancerl & Hermann Scherchen

by | Jun 7, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Great Conductors in Rehearsal and Performance = Karel Ancerl  & Hermann Scherchen

Karel Ancerl conducts Toronto Symphony Orchestra in SMETANA: The Moldau
Hermann Scherchen conducts CBC Toronto Chamber Orchestra in BACH: The Art of Fugue
Studio: VAI DVD 4322 
Video: 4:3 Color and B&W
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 115 minutes
Rating:****

In this fascinating video we have before us two very different musical
personalities, one collegial (Ancerl), the other paternalistic
(Scherchen). The sequence devoted to Karel Ancerl (1908-1973) has him
leading the Toronto Symphony through a telecast rehearsal and performance
(5 February 1969) of the ever-popular The Moldau section from Ma Vlast.
The Ancerl sections are in vivid color, with extremely good visual detail
in the print quality. Ancerl attends with polite vigor to incidentals of
rhythm, texture, inflection and dynamics, making at least one humorous
point in the village-dance episode: “Please, everyone, not too slowly;
some musicians take this section slowly because they think Czech peasants
(pronounced PEE-ZANTZ) are all fat, with thick ankles. It is not so.” From
the trickling stream to the raging cataract, the river swells and courses,
passing a hunt, a rustic dance, a calm nightfall, rapids, and finally the
High Castle in Prague. With loving care and a courteous mien, Ancerl makes
his points, hardly looking at the rehearsal numbers which he cites from
memory, and the players adjust and react with cordial enthusiasm. The
performance sparkles, even as it reveals a bit of spontaneity Ancerl saved
for the live audience.

Some eleven days prior to his death, Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966)  led
the CBC Toronto Chamber Orchestra (1 June 1966) in his own arrangement of
Bach‚s The Art of Fugue. This same performance is available through Myriam
Scherchen, the conductor’s daughter’s label, Tahra. For Scherchen’s own
labyrinthine tastes and sensibilities, the dark Bach work has a
magisterial, hypnotic appeal. Scherchen’s demeanor is authoritarian, his
attitude one of suppressed frustration with human foibles. As one
organist, a student of Walcha, once explained to me: What is The Art of
Fugue, if not God’s contemplating what Man has done with the
once-beautiful planet He gave him? The Scherchen arrangement is construed
as an antiphon of light and dark, with the woodwinds elucidating the
affirmative, positive statements, answered by the darker strings, whose
inversions pose questions that lie beyond mortal scope. If Scherchen is
rather curt and brusque with his players through Parts I-IV, well, perhaps
this is the parent’s guarding his precious child. Alternations of rhythm
and meter, tiny adjustments to points of entry and dynamic expression,
each contribute to the accumulation of voices and Bach’s many-layered
vision. Curiously, it is with the harpsichord version of Contrapunctus
XVII by Kenneth Gilbert that the video ends, the closing credits‚ having
an eerie valedictory effect, given that Scherchen would soon shed this
mortal coil forever.

–Gary Lemco

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