MENDELSSOHN: Ov. & Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; SCHUBERT: Sym. No. 8 – Soloists/Vienna Sym./ Clemens Krauss – Opus Kura

Viennese conductor Clemens Krauss finds seamless restorations in these rare moments in his impressive repertory. 

MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture, Op. 21; Incidental Music, Op. 61; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in b minor, D. 759 “Unfinished” – Dagmar Herman, mezzo-sop,/ Ilona Steingruber, sop./ Vienna Sym. Orch./ Chorus of the Vienna State Orch./ Bamberg Sym. Orch. (Schubert)/ Clemens Krauss – Opus Kura OPK 7076, 66:09 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Opus Kura restores music the Viennese conductor Clemens Krauss (1893-1954) led for two relatively minor labels, Vox and Amadeo, including his only recorded documentation (from Vox, 1950) in Mendelssohn. Noted for his natural and elastic style in the music of Strauss – and that includes the waltz-king family and Richard Strauss – Krauss had an impressively large Austro-Hungarian repertory that embraced Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Weinberger, Stravinsky, and Wagner, including a 1953 Ring cycle at Bayreuth.

The Mendelssohn Overture and Incidental Music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream enjoys the requisite lightness of hand.  Both annotator Tully Potter and I appreciate hearing the natural F horn from Vienna in the famous glowing Nocturne.  In this linear, stylistic performance, as in the Schubert symphony, Krauss allows much of the music to “play itself,” leading an unobtrusive pair of readings that might have been attributed to younger contemporary of Krauss, Fritz Lehmann. The individual touches of interior wind scoring in the Mendelssohn Overture shine while diaphanous strings dance and frolic in advance of Oberon’s dictates to Puck. After a shimmering, occasionally galloping Scherzo, the vocal duet “Ye Spotted Snakes” ensues, enchanting in its interwoven melody with chorus, and a likely model for duet writing for Humperdinck.  The Intermezzo episode gives us darker hue in Mendelssohn, somewhat near the scoring we find in his Die Erste Walpurgisnacht. Only at its conclusion does Mendelssohn relent, with a folk dance whose rustic charm assures us that innocence prevails. The sonority increases dramatically for the Wedding March, with brass, tympani, and cymbals in full panoply.  The finale, “Through this house,” reprises the magical filigree from the Overture, incorporating a farewell from the soprano Steingruber and chorus.  If fools we mortals must be, then let us proceed in style.

The April 1951 Schubert Unfinished from an Amadeo LP comes from a session with players formerly associated with the German Opera House in Prague, here having relocated to Bamberg. Their cello sound – soon complemented by the high strings in the famous first movement melody – remains soulful and immediately stirring.  Krauss underlines the often somber tragedy of the music without distorting the forward line, and his entire reading closely resembles – their respective timings differ only by one minute – that of his colleague in Bamberg, Fritz Lehmann, who recorded the work in late November 1952 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  Like the Berlin’s bass choir, the Bamberg’s tuning has created a lovely homogeneity down to low C.  The wind choir, too, enjoys a high gloss, especially in the context of the grim descents Schubert insists upon in the course of this fierce drama. In the second movement, Andante con moto, Krauss urges the music faster (10:19) than does Lehmann (12:14), without having sacrificed the yearning quality of its alternatively martial and dolorous figures. Opus Kura restoration sound  – courtesy of K. Yasuhara – remains seamlessly quiet.

—Gary Lemco

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