Karl Böhm in Lucerne – Vienna Philharmonic – Audite

by | Sep 28, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major; HINDEMITH: Concerto for Woodwinds, Harp and Orchestra – Hubert Jelinek, harp/ Werner Tripp, flute/ Gerhard Turetschek, oboe/ Alfred Prinz, clarinet/ Ernst  Pamperl, bassoon/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ Karl Böhm – Audite 95.649  78:13 (8/2021)  [www.audite.de] ****:

Audite revives two distinct works in the Austria-German tradition, from concerts given as part of the Lucerne Festival under the direction of Karl Böhm (1894-1981). The musical rarity comes from Paul Hindemith, his 1949 Concerto for Woodwinds, Harp and Orchestra, commissioned by New York’s Columbia University but no less a celebration piece for the composer’s silver wedding anniversary, 15 May 1949, meant as a surprise for his wife  Gertrude. The formal announcement of the occasion occurs in the last movement Rondo, in which Hindemith makes fertile and rather free, even dissonantly raucous, use of the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

The performance of the Hindemith Harp Concerto (6 September 1970) falls within that fertile period, 1950-1980, when Böhm shared high prestige in Europe, along with Karajan, Krips, Carlos Kleiber, and Celiibdache.  Noted for his “objective” approach to interpretation, almost a musical corollary to the Bertolt Brecht notion of  “aesthetic detachment,” Böhm found a sympathy for the work of Paul Hindemith, whose embodiment of the Neue Sachlichkeit (objectivity) movement in music seemed a natural kinship. The Concerto extends the neo-Classic impulse we find no less in Stravinsky, a concern for the Baroque concerto grosso that pits the small body (concertino)against the larger, responsory body (ripieno). In the first movement, however, the soloists combine for a unison cadenza of some demanding virtuosity. The second movement, Grazioso, combines a classical clarity of instrumental, twittering interplay with a choral motif that gains some sonic ascendancy. Whether the last movement’s  playful and even chaotic handling of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March will appeal to all tastes remains a matter of  conjecture, though the local critic praised the “effort to preserve the joy of playing [which did] not… abandon the  emotional dimensions.”

Böhm maintained a healthy respect for the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, usually performing them in their hotly debated original versions, as edited by Robert Haas, Alfred Orel, and Leopold Nowak. Böhm ’s natural literalism eschews the over-wrought approach of Celibidache, or the pietist view in Furtwaengler, rather seeking structure in the composer’s huge “periods” of sound in quick tempos and elasticity of the  singing line. The opening theme of the Seventh (6 September 1964) alone takes 21 measures, and it moves through two octaves higher, to be repeated in strings and woodwinds. The changes of texture and tempo occur  so often in Bruckner, without transition, that the hortatory elements seem to collide against the pastoral  episodes. Still, Böhm maintains a warm, vibrant tone and motor power in the first movement of the Seventh, in which hymnal transparency arises spontaneously from the disparate motions, as if one, guiding power  infused all competing varieties of expression. Böhm manages a palpable cantabile character throughout the expansive Allegro moderato, which in its well-wrought recapitulation achieves a majestic, even serene, vista, despite some obviously Wagnerian ambitions. The coda literally blisters us with its brass-ridden intensity.

Between 1943 and 1977, Böhm addressed the Bruckner Seventh in recordings seven times, each revealing a distinct character in terms of tempo and dynamic balances. This Lucerne performance of the huge, C-sharp Minor  Adagio cuts some five minutes from Böhm ’s Vienna document from 1948. This Adagio, the heart of the symphony, stands as an elegy to Richard Wagner, who had died in 1883. Bruckner designates a large choir of Wagner tubas: tenor tubas in B-flat, two bass tubas in F,and a contrabass tuba. With a move into triple meter, the VPO strings emerge in rising, transcendent lights, moving to what become two major pinnacles of sound, the second climax in resplendent C Major. Böhm includes the cymbal clash (after rehearsal X) that formally recognizes Wagner’s death, here interpreted idiosyncratically, in Austrian sonority. The mixture of emotions, grimly valedictory and ecstatic, projects an uncanny sobriety in its acceptance of the vicissitudes of fortune.  The Scherzo, vast and stunning, seems an outgrowth of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Bruckner provides a peasant dance that gallops after an initial trumpet call. The winds respond with a rustic idea which Bruckner called “the crowing of a cock” over an ostinato string rhythm. This clarinet answers,only to yield to trumpet-led, martial energies. Momentum remains steady, but a major halt occurs, anintroduction to a lyrical, Trio section of long held notes, played gesangvoll (songful.) Timpani lurk in the background, intoning the strident fanfare rhythm from the opening. The first section repeats at the close, but the pace and dynamic balances under Böhm have emerged with a clarity of line, without metric distortion and often with savage power. 

The Finale proceeds in sonata-form, opening with a dotted motif in the strings that soon assumes the tenor of a chorale. Bruckner then injects potent climaxes into the development of his ideas, which sometimes become subdued into short,lyrical phrases. The VPO horn section introduces a restrained fanfare which extends into a colloquy of strings in repeated patterns that suddenly break off. A martial, ponderous fanfare erupts in heroic tones; but it, too, relents to the lyrical secondary theme which finds itself haunted by tender wisps of earlier motifs over pizzicato strings. The music gathers considerable momentum, the opening theme’s being directed, ineluctably, to a blazing E Major perorationworthy of the master, Wagner, who invented Valhalla in operatic literature. 

—Gary Lemco


Karl Böhm in Lucerne, Album Cover
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