TAHRA TAH 604-605, (2 CDs) 67:08; 61:09 [www.tahra.com] ****:
Tahra restores to the active catalogue some important performances led by Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956), particularly the Tchaikovsky inscriptions from 20 March 1951 (Suite No. 3) and 28 November 1950 of the Pathetique Symphony. The last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3, really a set of character-pieces that ends with a huge scene de ballet, is the only known performance of this music by Abendroth. A conductor of the same vintage as Furtwaengler, Scherchen, Schuricht, Knappertsbusch, Kleiber, and Walter, Abendroth virtually ran the music world in Liszt’s city of Weimar from 1951 until his death.
The Pathetique is a highly idiosyncratic performance, at polar opposites from his more streamlined inscription with the Leipzig Radio Symphony from 28 January 1952 that appeared on Berlin Classics (BC 2054-2). One commentator has written of its “delicious excesses.” The tugs and releases that urge the first movement forward remind one of Mengelberg’s willfulness in music, though one feels more a sense of spontaneity underlying Abendroth’s lyrical reading. Listen to the ostinati in the strings while clarinet, oboe, and bassoon take the scales upward to the horns! Portamenti large as a church door swing wide open as the tympani rolls through. The big, gripping chord, and we are to the hysterical races – pure frenzy. This is Tchaikovsky old-school and frenzied. The dirge that ends the first movement more than pays for musical admission. Every movement is broader than the 1952 experience, except the Scherzo, here taken faster.
Gorgeous self-indulgence guides the Allegro con grazia, the cello section in homophonic bliss. The Allegro molto vivace might well be conducted by poet-prophet William Blake, for all the apocalyptic ferocity it conveys. Tympani and trumpet work is out of this world. I was shaken and stirred. The Adagio lamentoso stretches every bar for its Dantesque agony, which is likely Romantic ecstasy, nonetheless. Passionate, vehement, eminently sincere, this account stands secure in its own rhetorical conceits, a marvel of single-minded interpretation.
The Bruckner Seventh originates from a public concert 19 February 1956, for which Abendroth prepared by inscribing a commercial recording over the days prior, February 16-17. The last movement utilizes some of the commercial recording to replace a passage suffering bad wobble in the original master. Otherwise, the BRSO responds well and quickly to Abendroth’s nervous, searching (some might say groping), impulsive style, achieving some marvelous lyricism in the string lines and bouncy syncopations of the first movement. The first period ends with long-held notes in the horn and flute and wind dialogue that suddenly breaks off as the strings descend into pantheistic hymnody. Marvelous modulation to the development section, the cello line and upper strings both contending and complementing each other.
Equally marvelous sonority in the deep basses for the recapitulation, the polyphony rising beyond alpine to empyrean heights. The Adagio, for all its brassy grandeur, possesses a sense of palpable tragedy rare in Bruckner interpretation, except when ascribed to Furtwaengler. Abendroth pushes the hunt motif hard for the Scherzo, though the secondary tune drags deliberately and revives in a manner worthy of Celibidache. Shimmering sonorities for the Finale, hymn and march in perfect, albeit nervous, swaggering balance. The thunderous peroration reminds me of Blake – the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
— Gary Lemco