Hermann Scherchen – Le Concert Imaginaire Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884) Ma Vlast (1879) – Vltava [15:48] Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand (1929-30) [18:09] Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 4 Op.36 (1877) [40:24]
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (Ravel), Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera
(Smetana, Tchaikovsky)/Hermann Scherchen
rec. July 1951 (Tchaikovsky); May 1957 (Smetana); March 1957 (Ravel) TAHRA TAH651 [75:00]
disc’s title says it all. Scherchen never conducted this
particular programme but Tahra has willed it so in presenting
these three performances. Overture (or in this case, being
Vltava, not really), concerto and symphony is the standard
trio and it makes for fruitful stylistic listening.
said and with all due respect to the shade of Scherchen this
is the most bizarre performance of Vltava I have ever heard
and can confidently state ever shall – unless Roger Norrington
gets ever more eccentric in his old age. Forget the fact
that’s it must be the slowest example on record but more
to the point it really does show Scherchen’s amazing, wilful,
rhythmic impositions. The result is a petrified forest of
a performance – amazing, remarkable, once heard and never
forgotten. The weary tributary rises with exceptional lethargy.
The riverside village celebrations are shod in aluminium
shoes, the languorously romantic section are etiolated beyond
mere bar lines. Add to this the acidic sound of the Vienna
strings and you have an example of Scherchen’s imperishable
penchant for tempo extremes taken to grandiose extremes.
For those of us with Czech blood in our veins it’s a monstrous
river we meet!
concerto is Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D major for the Left
Hand. The soloist is the man who was much associated with
it and whose 1947 recording with Ormandy has long stood the
test of time; Robert Casadesus. This is the only live recording
in the disc (made a decade after the pianist’s commercial
recording) with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. The
recording is pretty good and once past the rather untidy
opening things begin to burgeon nicely. Scherchen was no
stranger to the work; he had conducted it for the dedicatee,
the argumentative Paul Wittgenstein, in April 1934, and again
in 1958 in Buenos Aires and in 1959 with Monique Haas and
the Berlin Philharmonic. Now trenchant, now brassy, colourful
and sinewy this is a powerful reading with the two men seemingly
in fine accord. The “brassy” first trumpet makes his presence
felt and the jazz-influenced pages are accomplished with
rhythmic assurance. Casadesus is a nuanced and characterful
soloist and more extrovert than his compatriot Jacque Février
whose 1942 recording with Charles Münch, though tonally constricted,
offers similar musical rewards.
symphonic statement is Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. Scherchen had
first conducted it in 1932 and more performances soon followed
in far-flung arenas – Montevideo and Mexico included – and
culminated in this Vienna recording made in July 1951. The
tempi are not consistently, or even exceptionally, extreme.
The Andantino is certainly brisker than contemporaries such
as Thomas Beecham and Erich Kleiber took it and both these
conductors took the Scherzo at a distinctly faster lick than
did Scherchen. But allowing for these inner two movements
the symphonic proportions as a whole are broadly stable.
It’s a pity the Vienna strings sound shrill and thin and
that the woodwind principals lack the glamour and personality
that others have brought to their solos. Nevertheless Scherchen’s
often rather cool and analytical direction lends the work
dignity and slightly unusual proportions.
this is the concert Scherchen didn’t conduct. Now, on disc,
in a sense, he does. Thoughtful notes ensure we have the
background of the conductor’s association with the individual
woks and composers.
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