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Karl Böhm – The Early Years – 1935-49
Staatskapelle Dresden, Wiener Philharmoniker, Berliner Philharmoniker, Philharmonia Orchestra
WARNER CLASSICS ICON SERIES 9029588672 [19 CDs: ca 21 hrs]

When Karl Böhm died in 1981, just shy of his eighty-seventh birthday, the music world lost a major figure in the Austro-German tradition that included such renowned conductors as Karl Muck, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Erich Kleiber, Clemens Kraus and Bruno Walter. On Warner Classics this nineteen CD set, part of its ICON series dedicated to legendary interpreters, gathers together the earliest recordingsA Böhm conducted for EMI (notably its German Electrola label) over the period 1935–1949 in Dresden, Berlin, Vienna and latterly in London. During these years Böhm sealed his reputation as a major conductor of Austro-German repertoire becoming widely recognised as a specialist in Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss.

It should be of interest to collectors that this set contains all the recordings that appeared in the much admired series of Dresden-themed LP boxes that EMI released to commemorate Böhm’s eighty-fifth birthday which fell in 1979. A number of rarities are incorporated including the world premiere release of a performance of Mozart’s Serenata notturna recorded in 1947 at Vienna.

An Austrian, Böhm may have spoken German with a Viennese accent, but he was born in Graz in 1894. First gaining a doctorate in law at the university, next Böhm studied at the city conservatory and it was in Graz in 1917 that he acquired his first job as a repetiteur and assistant conductor. He had been kicked and injured by a horse and a subsequent medical downgrading meant that he was permitted to do his national service at Graz Opera House. The first and greatest influence on Böhm was Karl Muck who heard him conduct Lohengrin in Graz and invited him to study all Wagner’s scores with him. This led to a successful new production of Fidelio in 1920 at a Beethoven festival in Graz.

Instead of accepting a job as principal conductor in Graz, Böhm chose the offer of working under Bruno Walter as a fourth conductor at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich which allowed him to conduct Freischütz and Butterfly and the opportunity to best learn the repertory. This was a decision that Böhm never regretted and he worked in Munich for six years (1921-27) the first year with Walter and the second with Hans Knappertsbusch who became musical director. Tellingly, Böhm explained, “From both I learned all I needed to know. Walter really taught me my Mozart. You see my father had been a Wagnerian, out and out, so until I got to know Walter, I had not regarded Mozart as highly as I should have done.” The decision to take the Munich job and the experience it gave him was pivotal in Böhm’s career. Böhm began to move steadily up the ladder through provincial opera houses and in 1927 he went on to become music director at the Staatstheater Darmstadt and then, in 1931, was appointed music director at Hamburgische Staatsoper serving until 1934 when he left for the prestigious post at Dresden.

The majority of the recordings on this ICON set stem from Böhm’s time as general music director of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden, where he grabbed the opportunity to succeed Fritz Busch, subject to a hostile and humiliating dismissal from his post, who was considered politically unsuitable by Hitler’s National Socialists. During the years 1934-43 Böhm conducted almost seven hundred opera performances, a period considered to be a golden age for Dresden by many musical historians although one unshakeably linked to the rule of Hitler’s Third Reich, from which Böhm significantly benefited. Actually, Böhm became one of an exclusive group serving as chief conductor of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and the Sächsische Staatsoper concurrently. Writer Michael H. Kater has described Böhm taking the Dresden post as “extreme career opportunism at the expense of personal morality.”B

After leaving Dresden for Vienna, Böhm served two terms as music director of the Wiener Staatsoper in 1943-45 and 1954-56. Böhm’s dedicated relationship with the Nazi Party remains a controversial one and following the conclusion of World War Two in 1945 the Soviet Russian authorities prohibited him from undertaking employment of any kind, a ban which lasted for two years. This period without being able to work and being trapped in Austria caused Böhm to shy away from being dependant on employment from just one or two countries and he concentrated mainly on a burgeoning and successful freelance conducting career that took him to musical centres all over the world, including Salzburg, Bayreuth, Vienna, Berlin, Milan, Paris, Buenos Aires, Milan, London and New York.

Böhm made the majority of the recordings in this set with Staatskapelle Dresden, however there are four CDs with Böhm conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker that were recorded between 1940-44 and there are just two single works with him conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker the Meistersinger Prelude and Overture Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor both recorded in 1936. On the final CD Böhm is conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, in 1949 in London, in a scene each from Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde.

Having auditioned all the CDs on the set it’s clear that the collection contains many satisfactory performances yet few that could be described as exceptional, which is not too surprising as the recordings were made relatively early in Böhm’s career. There are a number of top drawer performances that stand out from the pack. CD 2 has a wonderfully paced account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ with a striking choral finale sung by an admirable quartet of soloists Margarete Tastemaker (soprano), Elisabeth Höngen (alto), Torsten Ralf (tenor) and Josef Herrmann (baritone). On the same disc there is a vibrantly wrought performance of the Egmont Overture. On CD 6 is a pair of captivating performances of two of the most renowned piano concertos in the repertoire. There is Wilhelm Backhaus playing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, and the Schumann Piano Concerto with Walter Gieseking as soloist. CDs 9 and 10 contain stunning performances of Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 4 (Romantic) and 5. The performance of the whole of act 3 of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg contained here on CDs 13 and 14 is genuinely rewarding. Of distinctly high quality, the cast features Hans Hermann Nissen (baritone) as Hans Sachs, Margarete Tastemaker (soprano) as Eva, Torsten Ralf (tenor) as Walther and Sven Nilsson (bass) as Pogner. I fully appreciate a tremendous account of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 from the Wiener Philharmoniker on CD 16, which feels both perceptive and dedicated. Finest of all the works in this set, is the all-Wagner programme on CD 19 recorded in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra. From act two of Die Walküre there is the ‘Todesverkündigung’ (Annunciation of Death) scene,‘Siegmund! Sieh' auf mich!’ captivatingly sung with very moving expression by the celebrated soprano Kirsten Flagstad as Brünnhilde and tenor Set Svanholm in the role of Siegmund. Also worthy of great praise, from Tristan und Isolde is the stunning performance of scene two’s Love Duet ‘O sink' hernieder, Nacht der Liebe’ with Flagstad and Svanholm in the title roles joined by contralto Constance Shacklock as Brangäne. This is a performance, of intense passion and almost unbearable beauty, of a level rarely achieved. There are, on the other hand, a couple of performances which I feel really disappoint, namely an uninspiring Beethoven Violin Concerto played by soloist Max Strub on CD 3 and a Brahms Symphony No.4 on CD 4 that feels extremely workaday.

The notes for this Böhm ICON set state “that each recording has been painstakingly remastered in 24-bit/96kHz sound, using the best available sources, by Art et Son Studio, Paris.” Recorded in 1935-49, many of the recordings have surface noise which becomes especially noticeable in the quieter passages. Some of the recordings, too, contain slightly uneven, unsteady sound production. The most common characteristic is a general lack of depth to the sound. In addition recurring features that will be encountered are glassy sounding strings, and sour or vinegary winds. Overall the sound quality of the performances is acceptable for their age and I feel able to listen to the music reasonably well without the sound distracting me to much from the actual performances. In the accompanying booklet there is an informative essay titled ‘Karl Böhm - The Early Years’ by music writer Rémy Louis. Included also is a comprehensive list of the recordings complete with matrix numbers which shows that almost all were originally made for the Electrola label with ten on HMV and four on Columbia.

Appealing more to the specialist collector this Warner Classics release ‘Karl Böhm – The Early Years’ provides an absorbing insight into the recording development of this great conductor working predominantly with the world class Staatskapelle Dresden.
Michael Cookson
Track listing:
CD 1 [78.21]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
1–3. Violin Concerto No.5 in A, K219 [27.03]
4–6. Horn Concerto No.3 in E-flat, K447 [14.24]
7–10. Serenade No.13 in G, K525 ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ [14.15]
11. Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K384 Overture [4.21]
12. Le nozze di Figaro, K492 Overture [4.00]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
13. Leonore Overture No.3 from Leonore [Fidelio], Op.72b [13.46]
Jan Dahmen violin (1–3)
Max Zimolong horn (4–6)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1938 (1–3, 7–10, 13), 1939 (11, 12), 1940 (4–6)
CD 2 [74.13]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
1–4. Symphony No.9 in D minor, ‘Choral’ Op.125 [65.58]
5. Egmont, Op.84 Overture [8.07]
Margarete Teschemacher soprano (4)
Elisabeth Höngen alto (4)
Torsten Ralf tenor (4)
Josef Herrmann baritone (4)
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden (4)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1935 (5), 1941 (1–4 )
CD 3 [71.33]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
1–3. Violin Concerto in D, Op.61 [42.43]
4–6. Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58 [28.43]
Max Strub violin (1–3); Walter Gieseking piano (4–6)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1939
CD 4 [72.43]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
1–3. Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37 [35.24]
4–6. Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ [37.12]
Lubka Kolessa (1–3) piano; Edwin Fischer (4–6) piano
Sächsische Staatskapelle
Recorded: 1939
CD 5 [73.15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
1–4. Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op. 98 [40.36]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
5. 3 Marches militaires, D733: No. 1 in D [4.18]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
6. Marche hongroise from La Damnation de Faust, Op.24 H111 [4.11]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
7. Capriccio italien, Op.45 (excerpts) [8.06]
Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949)
8–10. Sinfonie in C, Op.46 [15.40]
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1938 (7), 1939 (1–6), 1940 (8)
CD 6 [74.11]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
1–4. Piano Concerto No.2 in B, Op.83 [44.57]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
5–7. Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 [29.08]
Wilhelm Backhaus (1–4) piano; Walter Gieseking (5–7) piano
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: Semperoper, Dresden, VI.1939 (1–4), 1942 (5–7)
CD 7 [72.43]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
1–3. Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 37.09
4–5. Hungarian Dances Nos. 5 & 6 [5.35]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
6–15. Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, Op.132 [29.45]
Wolfgang Schneiderhan violin (1–3)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1938 (4–15), 1940 (1–3)
CD 8 [74.01]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
1. Oberon Overture [8.39]
2. Der Freischütz Overture [9.13]
3. Was gleicht wohl auf Erden (Der Freischütz, Act III: Chorus of foresters) [2.38]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
4. Hoch, Ruhm und Ehre (Faust, Act IV: Soldiers’ chorus) [2.49]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
5. Aida Prelude to Act I [3.58]
6. Bei des Himmels ehernem Dache (Otello, Act II: Duet) [2.54]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
7. Pagliacci, Intermezzo [3.28]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
8. Lasset sie glauben (La fanciulla del West, Act III: Aria) [2.29]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
9. Lasst uns preisen den Herrn (Cavalleria rusticana, Easter Hymn with Santuzza) [4.09]
10. Cavalleria rusticana Intermezzo [3.21]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
11. Die Fledermaus Overture [7.47]
12. Tausendundeine Nacht Intermezzo [4.42]
13. Kaiserwalzer, Op.437 [8.50]
Emil Nikolaus von REZNIČEK (1860-1945)
14. Donna Diana Overture [4.06]
Theodor BERGER (1905-1992)
15. Rondino giocoso, Op. 4 [3.52]
Christel Goltz soprano (9)
Torsten Ralf tenor (6, 8)
Josef Herrmann baritone (6)
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden (3, 4, 9)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1938 (2, 7, 10, 12, 14), 1939 (1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 11, 13), 1940 (6, 8, 15)
CD 9 [63.25]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
1–4. Symphony No. 4 in E-flat ‘Romantic’ [63.25]
(‘original’ version 1878/80 of the complete addition by Robert Haas, 1935)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: Staatsoper, Dresden, 9–11.VI.1936
CD 10 [69.33]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
1–4. Symphony No. 5 in B-flat [69.33]
(‘original’ version of the complete addition by Robert Haas, 1936)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: Staatsoper, Dresden, 1–3.VI.1937
CD 11 [72.03]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
1. Der fliegende Holländer Overture [9.49]
2. Overture [14.24]
3. ‘Freudig begrüßen wir die edle Halle’ (Act II: Entry of the guests) [3.53]
4. Gesegnet soll sie schreiten‘ (Act II: Women‘s train to Münster) [4.08]
5. Prelude to Act III [3.07]
6. Treulich geführt’ (Act III: Bridal chorus) [5.16]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
7. Prelude to Act I [8.59]
8. ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder‘ (Act II: Hans Sachs‘s monologue) [7.03]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854–1921)
9. Hänsel und Gretel Overture [7.44]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
10. The Bartered Bride Overture [7.02]
Josef Herrmann baritone (8)
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden (3, 4, 6)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1939 (1–7, 9–10), 1940 (8)
CD 12 [70.36]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
1. Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op.28 [14.53]
2. Don Juan, Op.20 [15.55]
3. Salome Dance of the Seven Veils [8.28]
Der Rosenkavalier
4. Mit ihren Augen voll Tränen‘ (Act II: Duet) [3.23]
5. Act III: Waltz [7.37]
6. ‘Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein‘ (Act III: Duet) [4.33]
7. ‘O wie gern blieb‘ ich bei dir‘ (Daphne‘s scene) [3.48]
8. ‘Götter! Brüder im hohen Olympos!’ (Apollo‘s scene) [4.11]
9. ‘Wind… Spiele mit mir!‘ (Transformation scene) [7.25]
Esther Rethy soprano (4, 6)
Elisabeth Höngen alto (4, 6)
Margarete Teschemacher soprano (7, 9)
Torsten Ralf tenor (8)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1938 (2, 5, 7–9), 1940 (1, 3, 4, 6)
CD 13 [64.35]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Act III (beginning)
1–4. Scene 1 [20.32]
5–7. Scene 2 [20.18]
8–9. Scene 3 [10.48]
10–12. Scene 4 (beginning) [12.56]
Margarete Teschemacher, soprano (Eva) • Helene Jung, alto (Magdalena) • Rudolf Dittrich, tenor (Kunz Vogelgesang) • Klaus Hermanns, tenor (Ulrich Eisslinger) • Martin Kremer, tenor (David) • Hanns Lange, tenor (Augustin Moser) • Torsten Ralf, tenor (Walther von Stolzing) • Rudolf Schmalnauer, tenor (Balthasar Zorn) • Robert Büssel, baritone (Konrad Nachtigall) • Eugen Füchs, baritone (Beckmesser) • Hans Hermann Nissen, baritone (Hans Sachs) • Arno Schellenberg, baritone (Fritz Kothner) • Ludwig Eybisch, bass (Herman Ortel) • Hermann Greiner, bass (Hans Schwartz) • Sven Nilsson, bass (Pogner) • Serge Smirnoff, bass (Hans Foltz)
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Recorded: 1938
CD 14 [71.30]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Act III (conclusion)
1. Scene 4 (conclusion) [7.29]
2–9. Scene 5 [40.05]
10. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Prelude to Act III [7.34]
Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849)
11. Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor Overture [8.02]
Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)
12. Zar und Zimmermann Act III: Holzschuhtanz [4.03]
13. Undine Act II: Ballettmusik [4.15]
Margarete Teschemacher soprano (1–9) • Helene Jung alto (1–9)
Rudolf Dittrich • Klaus Hermanns • Martin Kremer
Hanns Lange • Torsten Ralf • Rudolf Schmalnauer tenors (1–9)
Robert Büssel • Eugen Füchs • Hans Hermann Nissen • Arno Schellenberg baritones (1–9) • Ludwig Eybisch • Hermann Greiner • Sven Nilsson • Serge Smirnoff basses (1–9)
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden (1–9)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden (1–9, 12–13)
Berliner Philharmoniker (10–11)
Recorded: 1938 (1-9), 1935 (12, 13), 1936 (10, 11)
CD 15 [66.19]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
1–2. Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ [25.15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
3–6. Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.73 [40.57]
Wiener Philharmoniker
Recorded: 1940 (1, 2), 17–18.IX.1942 (3–6)
CD 16 [67.56]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068
1. II. Air [4.43]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
2–5. Symphony No. 35 in D, K385 ‘Heffner’ [18.13]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
6–9. Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op.68 [44.48]
Wiener Philharmoniker
Recorded: 28.X.1942 (1–5), 18–19.XI.1944 (6–9)
CD 17 [48.37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
1–4. Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K183 [21.26]
5–8. Symphony No. 41 in C, K551 ‘Jupiter’ [27.04]
Wiener Philharmoniker
Recorded: 22–24.XI.1947 (1–4), 14–15.III.1949 (5–8), Brahms-Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
Wiener Philharmoniker
Recorded: 1.XII.1947 (2–4), 2.XII.1947 (5, 6), 15.III.1949 (11), 16.III.1949 (8, 12), 17.III.1949 (1),
CD 18 [65.37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
1. Der Schauspieldirektor, K. 486: Overture [4.08]
2-4. Serenade No. 6 in D Major, K. 239 ‘Serenata notturna’ [13.25]
5. Serenade No. 7 in D Major, K. 250, Heffner [7.43]
6. Divertimento No. 11 in D Major, K. 251 [3.35]
Josef STRAUSS (1827–1870)
7. Morgenblätter, Op. 279 [8.09]
8. Rosen aus dem Süden, Op. 388
Josef STRAUSS (1827–1870)
9. Sphärenklänge, Op. 235 [8.37]
Josef STRAUSS (1827–1870)
10. Neue Pizzicato Polka, Op. 449 [3.49]
Franz SCHMIDT (1874-1939)
11. Notre Dame, Op. 2, Act 2: Intermezzo [3.54]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
12. Turandot, Act 3 aria : Tu, che di gei sei cinta - Liù [2.55]
Willi Boskovsky, violin (5)
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano (12)
Wiener Philharmoniker
Recorded 1.XII.1947 (2-4), 2.XII. 1947 (5, 6), 15.III.1949 (11), 16.III.1949 (8, 12), 17.III.1949 (1), Brahms-Saal & 17.III.1949 (7, 9, 10) Großer Musikvereinssaal, Musikverein, Vienna
world premiere release (2-4)
CD 19 [42.10]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
1. Die Walküre, WWV 86B, Act 2: Siegmund! Sieh' auf mich! (Brünnhilde, Siegmund) [18.21]
2. Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90, Act 2: O sink' hernieder, Nacht der Liebe (Tristan, Isolde, Brangäne) [23.41]
Kirsten Flagstad, soprano (1, 2)
Set Svanholm, tenor (1, 2)
Constance Shacklock, contralto (2)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Recorded: 4.VI.1949 (1), 5.VI.1949 (2), Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London
A According to the booklet notes five recordings from this period are actually missing from this collection:
a) Aria from Verdi Macbeth - Staatskapelle Dresden
b) Tonio’s Prologue from Leoncavallo Pagliacci - Staatskapelle Dresden
c) Overture to Mozart Don Giovanni - Staatskapelle Dresden
d) Mozart Symphony No. 26 - Wiener Philharmoniker
e) Menuetto & Trio from ‘Heffner’ Serenade - Wiener Philharmoniker

B The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich by Michael H. Kater. Publisher: Oxford University Press (1997). Pg. 65



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