Hermann Scherchen: Live Unissued Recordings = Works of SCHUBERT, RAVEL, HANDEL, MOZART, BEETHOVEN, DEBUSSY, BRUCKNER – Tahra (2 CDs)

by | Feb 22, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Hermann Scherchen: Live Unissued Recordings = SCHUBERT: Rondo in A Major for Violin and Orchestra, D. 438; RAVEL: Ma Mere l’Oye; SCHOENBERG: A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46; HANDEL: Water Music; BEETHOVEN: Der Glorreiche Augenblick, Op. 136; MOZART: Don Giovanni excerpts; DEBUSSY: Jeux; BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor: Scherzo – Lore Spoerri, violin (Schubert)/ Radio Orch. Beromuenster/ Hans Olaf Heidemann, speaker (Schoenberg)/ Orch. des Landestheaters Darmstadt/ Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone/ Louis Rialland, tenor/ Ursala Lippmann & Claudia Hellmann, sop. / St. Hedwig’s Chorale/ Orch. Radio-Symphonique/ RIAS Sinfonieorchester (Ravel, Beethoven)/ Orch. di Roma della RAI (Handel)/ Suzanne Danco & Marianne Schech, sopranos/ Josef Traxel, tenor/ Walter Berry, bass/ Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Mozart)/ Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie Herford (Debussy) /Toronto Symphony Orch. (Bruckner) – Tahra TAH 729-730, (2 CDs) 75:05; 59:53 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Rare live broadcasts from the extensive legacy of conductor Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966)  grace these two discs, among which we hear a performance (30 April 1957) of Beethoven’s 1814 (pub. 1837) cantata for the Congress of Vienna, Der glorreiche Augenblick, with a pompously patriotic text by Alois Weissenbach. Celebrating the city of Vienna, the “poet” addresses its “genius” as that of Vindobona, its ancient Roman name, invoking the symbol of the double-eagle. The music often anticipates the means and propulsion of the Ninth Symphony, including the kinds of scoring for piccolo and percussion for “Turkish janissary band.” Beethoven employs the hymn as a polyphonic procedure, especially in the soprano’s proclamation, “I am Europe, no longer a city!” The use of cymbal, triangle, and drum to accompany the men’s chorus confirms the grand scale of the later symphony, for which this cantata seems a notable preparation. “The Glorious Retrospective” enjoys well-prepared forces, the women’s and children’s choirs particularly lyrical as they extol the virtues of Vienna’s musical past. Fischer-Dieskau’s contribution in the second section, “O seht sie nach und naeher treten,” proves resonant and quite thrilling, as answered by the full chorus.
The seven-minute “ensemble” excerpt from Don Giovanni (“O Say Where Hides These Criminals?”) contrasts the lyric soprano Marianne Schech against bass-baritone Walter Berry in spirited confrontation, each of the characters caught in the wake of Don Giovanni’s mischief. Josef Traxel delivers a sweet arietta to Scherchen’s haunted strings. Some gritty static interferes (6-12 October 1957) with the enjoyment of otherwise pure singing. Rather more off the beaten path lies Debussy’s 1912 fantastical rondo Jeux (1 February 1960) from Herford, the music’s having been conceived as an erotic vehicle for Nijinsky. Since the musical motifs have no extension, changing “speed and nuance every two measures,” the conductor must impose his will upon the slinky shape of this askew social encounter. And so, Scherchen follows well the glorious example of Victor de Sabata, who made the first recording of the work in 1947. Although Scherchen complained about the technical proficiency of his Herford musicians, they turn in an effective reading of this elusive work. A vivacious but cut Scherzo from Bruckner’s under-performed C Minor Symphony No. 2 (14 December 1965) by the Toronto Symphony attests to a sonic alertness and brisk response by the woodwind, brass, and string forces. Its Trio section combines laendler and bucolic hymn most effectively, the aural definition in Scherchen’s low basses section quite articulate.
Disc One opens with Schubert’s Rondo in A for Violin and Orchestra (12 November 1945), a recording quite effective for its time period, Spoerri’s violin persuasively lyrical. Some sound diminishes for the last four minutes or so of this otherwise seamless performance. The reading of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite ((31 January 1949) with Fricsay’s RIAS orchestra comes as a revelation of crystal clarity and refined nuance; I can only liken it to a live Previtali performance I heard in Carnegie Hall, c. 1969. The last movement, The Fairy Garden, achieves an apotheosis of childhood nostalgia and epic pageantry. The tempo for Laideronnette, imperatrice des Pagodes beautifully balances quicksilver orientalism with stately exotic chorale.
Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (20 August 1950) combines Scherchen’s loyal advocacy of 12-tone composition with his deep resentment for National Socialist politics and human atrocities. Narrator Hans Olaf Heidemann recites in English in a profoundly staggered syllabication, almost every word being broken, a mirror of the persona’s shattered memory and sensibility. “How could you sleep?” indicts a whole world. If Heidemann sounds like Bela Lugosi, the effect may well be deliberate. By the time the death and weird resurrection reach the fateful Hebrew hymn, Sh’ma Yisroel, we might well be reminded of Joseph Schildkraut’s chilling appearance in “Death’s-Head Revisited” on Twilight Zone.
The humane figures of Handel’s eternal Water Music from RAI Rome (5 January 1957) try to alleviate the global miseries of the Schoenberg; and they do trip the light fantastic elegantly. I could only wish Scherchen had the Neville Boyling edition that Menuhin utilized, for its buoyancy and metric invention. Still, the pomp and circumstance under Scherchen drive away care and admit delicate fancy, “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”
—Gary Lemco

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