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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon overture (1826) [10:22]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806) [39:55]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68 (1876) [46:09]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Bernard Haitink
rec. live, 29 September 2002, Kulturpalast, Dresden
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden – Volume 40
PROFIL PH09036 [50:25 + 46:09]

Edition Staatskapelle Dresden – Volume 40 is a recent release. It comprises three works that have long association with the Staatskapelle Dresden. Following the sudden death of Giuseppe Sinopoli in 2001 whilst conducting at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Bernard Haitink stepped into the breach as principal conductor of the Staatskapelle, serving from 2002 to 2004. Haitink had first conducted the Staatskapelle in 1989 and knew well the grand traditions of the distinguished orchestra. On this recording, made on 29th September 2002, Haitink is heard at the start of his tenure as principal conductor during his first set of subscription concerts. In August 2002 summer floods from the River Elbe inflicted serious damage in the area. That included the flooding of the adjacent Semperoper, home of the Staatskapelle. With the Semperoper out of action, all the works here were performed at another Dresden concert hall, the Kulturpalast.

Carl Maria von Weber is inextricably connected to Dresden. Serving as Hofkapellmeister from 1817 until his death in 1826 whilst residing in the city, he composed several works including his celebrated operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon. In 1951, during the celebrations to mark the 125th anniversary of Weber’s death, Der Freischütz was given its 1000th performance in Dresden, an event marked by a new production. The opening work on this release is the Overture to the three-act opera Oberon written in 1826 “at the last minute” according to the composer, just a few days before its première in London. The opera was finally introduced in Dresden two years later. Brilliantly scored, the Oberon Overture under Haitink is given a gripping performance of considerable exhilaration. Haitink adopts a sensible rhythmic course and, despite rather considered tempo selection, nothing seems ponderous. Striking is the impressive orchestral unison and the degree of expression the Staatskapelle achieves. With plenty of opportunity to shine, the horn section are in imperious form.
Beethoven’s scores were extremely popular in Dresden. It is curious, however: following its 1806 première at Theater an der Wien, the Violin Concerto had to wait until 1839 before it was introduced in Dresden for the Hofkapelle, played by soloist Karol Lipiński at the Großer Garten. On this recording, the sweet, singing tone of German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann is both engaging and as clear as a bell. Clean and decisive, the interpretation has a rather serious edge, played with sincere concentration and conveying appealing intonation. The lyrical Larghetto is played with feeling and tenderness containing an undertow of reflection. It is followed by the Rondo: Allegro, so buoyant and joyous in Zimmermann’s responsive hands. Zimmermann has the advantage of high-quality contribution from the Staatskapelle, who makes an ideal partnership.
By writing symphonies, Brahms was fully aware he was invading the territory ruled so successfully by Beethoven. Brahms had written to conductor Hermann Levi that he could feel the presence of Beethoven marching behind him. Brahms was 43 and at the height of his maturity when his Symphony No. 1 in C minor was completed in 1876. The gestation period had been extremely long. Many Brahms supporters, notably Eduard Hanslick, were able to acknowledge the close relationship of the First Symphony to the music of Beethoven. Conductor Hans von Bülow went further: he referred to the C minor Symphony as “Beethoven’s tenth”. The first time Brahms’s First Symphony was performed in Dresden was in 1878 under Franz Wüllner, a passionate Brahms supporter. During his time as Dresden court kapellmeister, Wüllner also programmed the other two symphonies that Brahms had written up to then, plus the Tragic Overture, Alto Rhapsody and Nänie.

Haitink, an experienced and enthusiastic Brahmsian throughout his long career, has recorded at least three sets of the complete Brahms symphonies. With the Staatskapelle Haitink turns to the First Symphony, contained on disc two. The gravely solemn and heavy, threatening strokes of the timpani that open the first movement Un poco sostenuto - Allegro are highly convincing. In truth no one has managed to provide an opening of such raw power, approaching that of Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Throughout this movement the assured Haitink brings appropriate weight and a serious quality, successfully providing the generous quantities of beauty, passion and menace that the writing needs. A burnished, autumnal feel of the verdant countryside to the Andante sostenuto movement is evident, and played with real substance. Delightful is the colourful wind playing and the rising melody for solo violin at 5:57 (CD 2, track 2). It always reminds me of a section in Brahms’s own Violin Concerto. Magnificent lyrical melodies abound in the short Un poco allegretto e grazioso, right from the swaying opening measures in writing reminiscent of Mendelssohn. This certainly feels like fresh yet robust music of the great outdoors, evocative of early morning summer dew over a backdrop of wonderful Alpine scenery. Haitink ensures a sense of dark foreboding at the beginning of the magnificent closing movement. With glorious playing, creating a wealth of drama, it is easy to imagine relentlessly changing Alpine vistas that Brahms would have known. Quite wonderful are the bold horn solos at 2:43 and 4:21 (track 4). The introduction of the magnificent romantic theme at 5:06 is one of the glories of classical music. Haitink ensures that the ending to this outstanding score is genuinely thrilling.

This live concert was recorded in Kulturpalast in Dresden, and produced for radio broadcast. The sound quality is satisfying, clear, with good presence and well balanced. The audience applause has been retained and is included in the timings. During the performances there is some minor extraneous noise but nothing to worry about. As usual from this source, the annotation in the accompanying booklet is first-class. There are several informative essays and a number of fascinating photographs.

The archive of Staatskapelle Dresden recordings is both substantial and valuable. I look forward to more releases of magnificent music. With these Haitink recordings from 2002, the Edition Staatskapelle Dresden now at volume 40 goes from strength to strength. Beautifully played and recorded, these valuable live performances under Haitink have genuine authority.

Michael Cookson



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