Schurict a Hamburg = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 93; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – NWDR Sinfonieorchester, Hamburg/Carl Schuricht – Tahra

by | Mar 22, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Schurict a Hamburg = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 93; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – NWDR Sinfonieorchester, Hamburg/Carl Schuricht

Tahra TAH 664, 75:59 [] *****:

The relationship between the “great independent,” Carl Schuricht (1880-1967) and the Hamburg NDR orchestra and its steady conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt generated great friendship and mutual respect; and many would claim the highlight of this collaboration to be the performance of the Missa Solemnis at the Montreux Festival in September 1957. Schuricht was invited ten times to Hamburg, particularly in 1957 and 1958, when he performed the Beethoven Seventh (15 April 1957) and the Brahms Fourth (7 August 1958). Tahra makes these recordings available for the first time.

Much like his contemporary Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Carl Schuricht can educe a leisurely, measured nobility of tempo and affect from ensembles that know his working methods and expressive means. The trumpet section of the NWDR proves particularly alert and responsive to their interplay with the strings through the Poco sostenuto section. The flute annunciation of the mainspring rhythmic kernel lies in a happy realm between Teutonic and Italianate furies; and once the strings and tympani join the Dionysian revel, the elastic youth of the performance irresistibly urges itself forward. The pungency of the brass sforzati consistently shatter our complacencies, while the lyric moments–in spite of the tympanic furor below–dance both with light and monumental feet. The last pages convey a firm abandon, an elan born of conviction and heroic temperament.

The tragic Allegretto, lambent and austere, allows us to hear Beethoven as chamber music, the instrumental choirs blending in sublime fashion to sound their melancholy plaint. Schuricht does not slow down the tempo for the counter-theme, which retains the quality of a walking, funereal pace that does not succumb to sentimentality. The sense of mortal urgency rivals the great realization of this music with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic, transitioning into the lyrically contrapuntal episode without sag or undue formality.  Just as miraculous is the fortissimo return to the main statement of the march incarnation of the theme, then its syncopated variant. The entire movement has been cast from a single block of Aeolian marble, rendered under Schuricht’s musical terribilita.  

The Presto returns to the liberated spirit of pure rhythmic certitude, even fanaticism, when the horns and tympani have their way. Wait until you hear the sustained blasts from the trumpets and trombones in the trio section! The da capo actually appears more innocent by contrast, more impish, at least until the tympani and swirling strings cut loose once more.  The sheer volume of Schuricht’s temperament–the agogic tugs and stretches– makes this Beethoven a force with which to reckon. The wheels thoroughly oiled, the last movement Allegro con brio punches through the cardboard mask of experience to whatever, seething core of energy lies beneath. The musical eddies become quite galvanic, the basses churning along with the furors above, the whole broth singing like a maenad possessed, Shelley‘s West Wind.

The Brahms Fourth communicates an immediate languorous energy, a dark resignation in its arrangement of rising and falling thirds in the opening Allegro non troppo. The Hamburg string sound in strong syncopation with the winds and horns, erupts into a weird tango, what might be construed as a dance of impending death. The cadences heave with spectacular power that simultaneously betrays an enervated spirit, a soul “in the yellow leaf.”  The middle period, with its plucked strings and bucolic woodwinds, would invite us back to life, except the falling thirds whimper forth and plunge us into desolation. After some mystical progressions, the real recap opens up, the basses heaving like Arnold’s waves in “Dover Beach.”  Suddenly, the warrior in Brahms rebels, and an anguish of agonized rebellion breaks forth into that ungainly tango, the trumpets angrily punctuating the rhythm. The contrapuntal, marcato coda plays out a ferocious battle of wills, a fierce resistance to any passive “dying of the light.” The tympani part alone just falls short of decapitating us all.

A thoughtful, Phrygian second movement proceeds with valedictory authority, despite a few flubs in the horn parts. When the strings enter, tutti, however, an Antarctic glacier could melt in a heartbeat.  The secondary melody enjoys a lovely graduation and layering of entries, the solemn weave of intricate, intimate chamber music. The slow, quasi-martial interweaving of the two melodies ascends to a sense of resigned jubilation, only a step from the mood of the Shostakovich Fifth. Once again, fate comes knocking at he door via an inflamed tympani part. The final pages overwhelm us with heart-breaking, universal sympathy, the Brahms equivalent of “Seid umschlungen. . .,” even echoing moments from Ein deutsches Requiem.

A robust, frothy Scherzo–Allegro giocoso–in the best, ringing, excited tradition of Brahms performance, clear, optimistic, forthright. Teutonic this realization is certainly, but it does not lack for wit, grace, and “Miltonic” apotheosis, allowing the oxymoron. The formal finale, the grand passacaglia, assaults us without preliminaries, energized and passionate, as directed, the horns barking like the dogs of war. The lower strings, too, conduct a huge wrestling match with the Archangel in the pursuit of the Promised Land. This is no country for old men, despite–or better, because–of the conductor‘s years. A pregnant, devastating pause just prior to the final surge of variations, a plummeting cataract of sound beneath which the Goddess herself bathes at our peril. The last pages sweep us away, so we are lost and saved at once by the art of magnificent music-making.
  Five stars means that I will be playing my copy over gain.

— Gary Lemco

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