Overture, Op. 81; STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20 – Berlin
Testament SBT 1378 68:58 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
The Berlin Philharmonic concert of 26 June 1969 finds veteran
Czech-Hungarian maestro George Szell (1897-1970) at the helm, calling
forth some streamlined and volcanic musicianship from the orchestra.
The major work is Schumann’s C Major Symphony, a work whose recorded
inscription with Szell and the Cleveleand Orchestra on CBS ML 4815)
from the mid-1950s had already impressed me with its linear drive and
Szell’s thinning of Schumann’s scoring in order to clarify the melodic
tissue. The pungency of the oboe part, solid in Cleveland, here takes
on a sensuous resonance to counter the electric quickness of the tempos
Szell sets for the Scherzo and the Allegro molto vivace of the finale.
The sudden impulses of C Major push the music forward in an unrelenting
martial frenzy. The poignant Adagio has some glowing string work and a
generally unbridled, rhythmic ambience.
The opening piece, the Brahms D Minor Overture, has the same breadth
allotted it in the reading by Fritz Lehmann some ten years prior, with
heavy emphasis on the inner polyphony and the sense of architecture,
which for want of a better epithet I find episodic or even
Brucknerian. The Don Juan is a showpiece for the Berlin
Philharmonic’s brass and string choirs, with a silken violin part,
courtesy of concertmaster Michel Schwalbe. A fascinating blend of
calculation and unbuttoned intensity, the Szell magic was still potent
in Berlin, only a year prior to Szell’s untimely demise.