Praga presents a cross-section of Hans Rosbaud, a conductor who explores and experiments with all music.
Tribute to Hans Rosbaud – BERG: Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; WEBERN: Six Pieces for Large Orch., Op. 6; SIBELIUS: Valse Triste, Op. 44; Tapiola, Op. 112; BARTOK: Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion – Maria Bergman & Hans Rosbaud, pianos/ Werner Brabinger and Erich Seiler, perc./ SWR Sym. Orch., Baden-Baden/ Berlin Philharmonic (Sibelius)/ Hans Rosbaud – Praga Digitals PRD 250 333, 79:57 (10/7/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:
Hans Rosbaud was a champion of contemporary music during the pre-stereo era.
Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) remains a vital force in the history of contemporary music, his having championed the work of serial composers, Bartok, and neo-Expressionists at a time when his only serious rivals in these efforts had been Hermann Scherchen and Rene Leibowitz.
In the world of more” conventional” musical composition, Rosbaud could be as insightful land emotionally pungent as his colleagues Fricsay, Fuurtwaengler, and Klemperer, though his own approach lay well within the literalist tradition. My late colleague at the New York based “First Hearing” microphone, Richard Kapp, had been a devoted pupil of Rosbaud who never ceased arguing for Rosbaud’s under-rated, catholic repertory.
Praga assembles performances Rosbaud, taped 1953-1957, that bespeak his penchant for modern sensibilities, while the Sibelius items testify to a clear and passionate enunciation of that Finnish master’s colorful style. The Berg Three Pieces (1915) come to us in a performance from March, 1957 in Baden-Baden. Berg’s desire to create “meaningful atonality” comes to the fore in brilliant orchestration that mirrors – for sheer girth – the work he admired in Mahler. In three sections – Preludio, Round Dance, and March – the work quickly echoes aspects of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, with the Prelude’s forming a large arch. The figures, mostly percussive, reach a climax with a theme for violins and bassoons. The only gauges of Rosbaud’s contribution lie in his accuracy and intensity. The middle Round Dance serves as both scherzo and slow movement. The color effects prove striking, and Stravinsky called one passage – constructed out of slow trills that converge on a chord built from 11 notes – “one of the most remarkable noises ever imagined.” The March employs hammer blows that take their inspiration from the conclusion of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, which Berg once called “the only Sixth.” This music recapitulates earlier materials but in a format quite kaleidoscopic, like a cubist painting.
The Webern Six Pieces were composed in 1910 and revised in 1928. Rosbaud (March 1957) delivers them for the haunted character, their spare but relatively extended textures. The six pieces achieve a kind of spontaneity by avoiding repetition and exploiting mercurial contrasts in color, dynamics, and tempo. For Webern, “The theme itself expresses all it has to say.” A master of compression, Webern has the Lansgsam (No. 4) sound a funeral-march twice the length of its companions, opening with seven bars of percussion and proceeding with ostinato figures toward a hair-raising climax. The last piece might have moved Bartok with its instrumentation that achieves a wispy, elfin atmosphere by way of bells, celesta, and low harp.
Years ago, to introduce my mentor Carmine Arena to Rosbaud, I chose his masterful rendition (rec. November 1954) of the Sibelius Valse Triste from Kuolema, Op. 44. The extraordinary delicacy of the opening pizzicati alerted us that we witnessed musical genius. Rosbaud’s pacing alone merits the price of admission, with breathed phrases and an ardent arioso string line that imbues a warmth Karajan never achieved in all his hours of hegemony with the BPO. The greatest performance I have ever heard of the 1926 symphonic poem Tapiola occurred in Syracuse, with that orchestra’s being led by Eleazar de Carvalho. Rosbaud, nonetheless, imposes a dramatic and liquid sense of it sonata-form structure, akin to the conductor’s penchant for neo-Classicism. While exploiting mythic allusions to the dark forest god Tapio, Sibelius utilizes a series of variants and four main themes taken from the ground-motif at the beginning, a technique we find in Beethoven and Schoenberg. Rosbaud’s etched tension produces a cohesive rendition of dark power, making the Beecham performance appear wan and enervated.
Bartok’s Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion (1937), premiered at the ISCM Festival with the composer and his wife, and has won admirers who perform this challenging music often. Rosbaud and Bartok collaborated in this work for a private performance in 1938, even in the face of Nazi restrictions about such “decadent music.” Rosbaud, conducting from one of the keyboards in October 1953, and emphasizes the color aspects of the score – the group of four musicians must produce sounds on seven instruments – which explores Mahler’s notion of “progressive tonality,” as in the huge first movement, opening in F-sharp and ending in C Major. The use of the tritone in Bartok likely mirrors his admiration for countryman Franz Liszt. The middle movement, Lento ma non troppo, provides another example of Bartok’s patented ‘night music’. The last movement allows Rosbaud and ensemble to dance in a spirited, eccentric rondo, in which keyboards combine with xylophone, and the snare drum and cymbal have their own duet. The whole disc – thought mono – has been wide-ranging and musically challenging, exactly those qualities which Rosbaud nurtured with expert craftsmanship.