Monday, July 23, 2012

Bruckner 9, Schubert, and Berg from Keilberth and the Berlin Philharmonic (Salzburg Festival, August 1960)

Schubert, Rosamunde Overture
Berg, Violin Concerto
Bruckner, Symphony No. 9

Berlin Philharmonic
Joseph Keiberth
(Salzburg Festival, 17 August 1960)
Orfeo C838 112B

Doubtless the performance of Bruckner’s 9th Symphony is the main reason for this release from Orfeo of a live recording from the 1960 Salzburg Festival of Joseph Keilberth conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. And it is indeed an excellent performance. But the 2-CD set also contains a very good performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, then in the early years of his fame. This is not  a piece that most would associate with Keilberth, but it is conducted with great insight, and delicacy where needed. Some will quibble that the Berg and Schumann combined double the price of the set, while adding only 37 minutes of music, but to my mind the price is worth paying.

Keilberth’s approach to Bruckner is manifest at the first climax in the opening movement – conducted with great power and with an energy that carries over into the pizzicato bridge passage. Throughout the movement the lyricism comes out clearly – as do the lilting rhythms – even though each climactic section seems carved out of granite. The tempo of the scherzo and trio seem exactly right, and the movement displays very forceful brass playing.

The brass continue to impress in the finale, still forceful but at the same time strikingly in balance with the woodwind, which Bruckner typically charges with the finer points of detail in this wonderful movement. The concluding dissonance before the coda is very draining, certainly the most powerful that I have heard for a while. The coda is a fitting epitaph and the audience is silent before bursting into enthusiastic applause.