Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 3 [31.08]
Symphony No. 4 [40.16]
Leipzig RSO/Hermann Abendroth
rec Leipzig Congreßhalle 17 Mar 1952 (Sym 3) 8 Dec 1954 (Sym 4) MONO ADD
BERLIN CLASSICS 0094332BC  [71.38]

Abendroth (1883-1956) was one of those conductors who achieved eminence inside the Third Reich. Typically fine audio tapes from the Third Reich include a Preiser set of a 1943 Bayreuth Die Meistersinger with Paul Schoeffler, Ludwig Suthaus and Erich Kunz. Unlike Oswald Kabasta who committed suicide in the face of the crumbling of eagle and swastika utopias, Abendroth chose life and a career behind the Iron Curtain in the DDR.

Abendroth is not exactly a presence in the card indexes of LP era collectors though the odd vinyl escaped under the aegis of Saga or Supraphon to ensure that he was not quite forgotten. He had had a long career. Early Abendroth acoustics were from Polydor. In 1927 HMV had sufficient faith to record him in Brahms' Symphony No. 4. Some of his German Odeons from the 1930s turned up on Parlophone. Some of his DDR tapes surfaced on Urania.

Unlike Furtwängler and Karajan, Abendroth found himself in exile on the Soviet side of the wire. This at least left him in close touch with the city and orchestra of his affections: Leipzig and its Gewandhaus. In the long perspective it is Abendroth's tragedy as much as Walter's that Abendroth became conductor of the Gewandhaus when Bruno Walter was forced out by the Nazis.

His style was unflamboyant, dignified, exuding authority. Wolfgang Marggraf's notes proclaim his 'supreme duty' to remain faithful to the score. In fact I suspect that he allowed himself more 'play' than that with some quite arresting changes of pulse there for all to hear on this disc. He is, however, nowhere near as wilful as Mravinsky or Golovanov or, yes, Wyn Morris. At his best, as in the molten activity of the finale of the Third, he puts Bruno Walter into the shade. An inspirational flame burns fiercely when the music becomes animated. Abendroth can tend towards 'spread' and breadth when the music is marked slow. His accenting of the great gestural call at 6.18 in the finale of the Fourth is but one example of the surprises he holds in store. Ardour and humanity are Abendroth's as also is the slow siren lure of Germanic lyricism in anything approaching an andante. Abendroth may well have enjoyed the slow music too much though at least he avoids the fatal slickness that often settles over Karajan's recordings of these two symphonies. Lovely playing though the precision of ensemble does not match the machine-turned definition achieved by a paradoxically more relaxed character, Franz Konwitschny when he directed the Gewandhaus in Schumann and Beethoven. Konwitschny was also a figure better known in the DDR and Soviet satellites than in the West. What might Abendroth have achieved had he had the Gewandhaus at his disposal? I wonder how much exchange of personnel there was between the radio orchestra and the Gewandhaus?

Brahms' Third is my favourite of the four. Abendroth's interpretation of it can be counted in the close company of my reference recording: Columbia SO/Bruno Walter (Sony-CBS). While not as fine as Walter it is in touch with an edge-of-seat excitement for which Walter had largely substituted a burnished glow. That great rush in the finale of No. 3 is the equivalent of Mravinsky's concluding 'sprint' in Tchaik 5 (1960s DGG). Abendroth liked to live dangerously as well.

Sound quality: steady and strong without the subtlety and richness that would have come from 1960s tapes.

Rob Barnett

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