Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Remastered historical Bruckner recordings from Giulini and Schuricht

Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 2 (*)
Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 (**)
Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 9 (**)

(*)       Wiener Symphoniker, conduced by Carlo Maria Giulini
Vienna Symphony Orchestra label WS004 (CD)

(**)     Wiener Philharmoniker, conduced by Carl Schuricht
            EMI Classics 50999 9 55984 2 0 (2 discs - Hybrid SACD)

Here are two very welcome reissues of historical recordings from the 1960’s and 1970’s of great Bruckner conductors in Vienna  – a 2-disc set from EMI Classics of Bruckner 8 and 9 from Carl Schuricht conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and a single disc with Bruckner 2 from Carlo Maria Giulini and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, originally issued by Warner and now reissued as the fourth release from the Vienna Symphony’s own label. The Schuricht recordings date from 1963 and 1961 respectively, while the Giulini performance was recorded in December 1974. All three have been remastered, with the Schuricht discs remastered into SACD.

Although only 10 years or so separate the Schuricht recordings from the Giulini recordings, these are two very different eras of Bruckner conducting. Schuricht is from the school of Furtwängler and Knappersbusch – at least in his freedom with tempi, although he is far less monumental  in his approach to Bruckner than either of the others. Giulini is much more measured and in the modern style.

Giulini imbues the 2nd with real depth. Too often it sounds like a pale shadow of the Bruckner to come, but the emotional intensity of Bruckner’s late symphonies is already there in Giulini’s performance, particularly in the slow movement where he does more than justice to the solemnity of the main theme. At the same time Giulini does not shy away from some of the effects in this symphony that are far cruder than the late Bruckner would have contemplated (e.g. in the Scherzo and Finale, both of which are conducted with great energy and vitality). The end of the Finale is particularly dramatic (as noted in the interesting essay by Robert Freund, horn player with the orchestra and involved in the original recording session). 

Carl Schuricht uses tempo variations in both of these recordings to good effect. His approach to Bruckner is relatively undramatic. His Bruckner is not the Bruckner of the church or of the mountain-tops. And so he uses fluctuating tempi to build (and then dissipate) tension and to carve out the structure of the two symphonies.  His climaxes are understated but nonetheless effective – primarily because of how he builds and moulds the musical line building up to them. To my mind his approach is more successful (even more successful!) in the 9th than the 8th., but both performances are recommended.

Isserlis and Mustonen play Martinu, Sibelius and Mustonen

Martinu:         Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1, H277
                        Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2, H286
                        Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3, H340

Sibelius           Malincolia, Op. 20

Mustonen       Sonata for Cello and Piano

Stephen Isserlis, cello
Olli Mustonen, piano

BIS 2042
Hybrid SACD

 This attractive disc showcases what for many listeners will be an unfamiliar program. Martinu’s three cello sonatas have been recorded on a number of occasions (including an earlier recording by Stephen Isserlis on Helios with Peter Evans at the keyboard), but remain relatively little known. Malincolia is not one of Sibelius’s better known pieces, to put it mildly. And only real enthusiasts who have played it or heard it live will be familiar with Olli Mustonen’s sonata for cello and piano. Yet the combination works well. 

The three Martinu sonatas complement each other nicely. The first (written in 1939 after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia) is the most searching, particularly the Lento, which Isserlis and Mustonen play with real depth of feeling. The momentum of the second sonata (written in exile in the US) is nicely captured by the two performers. Likewise for the rhythmically rewarding and even more dynamic third sonata. Isserlis and Mustonen clearly have great affinity for this music (and Isserlis’s program notes in the booklet are thoughtful and informative).

Sibelius’s Malincolia is aptly named. It is an unremitting lament for the composer’s deceased infant daughter. Isserlis illuminatingly describes it as “a tone poem for cello and piano in which the darkness of Finland’s forests alternates with the consoling sound of human chant.” Isserlis plays with lyrical depth and a fine singing line rising above Mustone’s driving piano accompaniment.

Mustonen’s own sonata is appealing, combining catchy phrases for the cello with an energetic and percussive accompaniment for the piano. It is clearly from the same stylistic and emotional universe as the other pieces on the disc (like Sibelius, Mustonen is a Finn). This is the first recording and it rounds out very nicely an interesting and satisfying selection of music for cello and piano. The sound quality is excellent and the disc is recommended.