Hans Rosbaud conducts MENDELSSOHN; WEBER – Southwest Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden/ Hans Rosbaud – SWR Classics

by | Aug 7, 2018 | Classical Reissue Reviews

SWR Classic issues a series of Hans Rosbaud vintage recordings, 1955-1962, of Romantic staples.

Hans Rosbaud conducts = MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture, Scherzo and Notturno; Capriccio brillante in B minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 22; WEBER: Overtures: Preziosa, Op. 78; Der Freischuetz, Op. 77; Der Beherrscher der Geister, Op. 27; Konzartstueck in F minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 79 –  Yvonne Loriod, piano (Mendelssohn)/ Robert Casadesus, piano (Weber)/ Southwest Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden/ Hans Rosbaud – SWR Classics SWR19040CD, 79:40 (8/4/18) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:  

Those who lament the passing of Wilhelm Furtwaengler in 1954 as Germany’s great interpreter of the Romantic tradition—that is, who do not particularly relish the legacy of Herbert von Karajan—may recall the Austrian conductor Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) continued both that tradition and a strong commitment to modernism in Baden-Baden by tirelessly working with his chosen SouthWest Radio Orchestra.  My late colleague from my “First Hearing” days at WQXR-FM in New York City, Richard Kapp, had been a Rosbaud pupil, and he would harp perpetually on the limited scope of those few recordings that failed to represent the extraordinary range of Rosbaud’s musical acumen. Now, SWR Classic issues previously unpublished documents (rec. 1955-1962) that well certify the suave craft of this master of multifarious musical styles.

The opening 1821 Preziosa Overture enjoys a light, pert approach, melodious and sonically resonant in the winds and brass.  Essentially Weber’s concession to Spanish music, the piece revels in bolero and polonaise rhythms and gypsy colors. Prior, this piece and other, selected overtures of Weber “belonged” to Wolfgang Sawallisch on an EMI recording. Weber’s brief Overture to Schiller’s Turandot (1804; rev. 1809) contains the frisky “Chinese” march both Busoni and Hindemith find appealing.  But the gist of Romanticism comes in the 1821 Der Freischuetz, whose Overture bristles with gothic shadows and sturm und drang. The Baden-Baden French horns well prepare us for what will appear in the Wolf’s Glen scene.  By the way, my favorite performance of the whole opera has Lovro von Matacic at the helm. The less familiar Overture to The Ruler of the Spirits, with its hectic opening chords in D minor, comes from an unfinished opera, Ruebezahl (1805).  The woodwinds and the active tympani arrest our attention throughout. Both the Free-Shooter Overture and The Ruler of the Spirits found a (jealous) admirer in Richard Wagner, who desperately wanted to attain the popular celebrity that the Huntsmen’s Chorus in Freischuetz achieved for Weber.

In his accompanying booklet notes, Hartmut Lueck claims that French piano virtuoso Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) “is not really known as an interpreter of Weber,” particularly in the 1821 Konzertstueck in F minor, Op. 79.  I must beg to differ, first on the grounds that Casadesus and Rosbaud performed the piece on 3 March 1954 in Cologne (on Medici Arts MM010-2), and Casadesus made an equally thrilling commercial CBS LP of the work with George Szell in Cleveland (on ML 4588).  Here in Baden-Baden on 14 April 1959, Casadesus’ febrile, even titanic, temper unleashes a storm of notes and resounding octaves, all the while assisted by clear, streamlined energy from Rosbaud’s orchestra. The piece became Liszt’s model for his own Piano Concerto No. 2 in A, which too involves a triumphal march. And, that work, coincidentally, appears on the CBS LP with Szell and Casadesus.

Rosbaud and the music of Felix Mendelssohn come new to my ears, so to savor the diaphanous and witty figures of the 1826 Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1 January 1957) restored the magic that often disappears with over-familiarity. “Dreamlike” and “intangible,” epithets from commentator Lueck, fit the Rosbaud performance suitably. I might venture to add “a cunning deftness” of execution in the string, wind, and tympani parts, complemented by those horn interjections that impose an air of pomp and ceremony into the mock-epic proceedings of the play. The two selections from the 1843 incidental music, Op. 61, dazzle with the flutes and French horns, respectively, in the Scherzo and Nocturne.  The performance from 18 December 1961 of Mendelssohn’s sparkling Capriccio brillante in b minor, Op. 22 features a rare appearance of pianist Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010), so potent a factor in the piano music of her husband, Olivier Messaien, in a spicy, Romantic display piece.  

The restoration and digital remastering, courtesy of Ute Hesse, illuminates even further already polished, driven renditions of essential, Romantic classics.

Gary Lemco


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