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Artur Bodansky Conducts Berlin State Opera Orchestra
rec. 1927-1929, Berlin, mono

The name of Artur - sometimes Arthur - Bodansky is well-known to opera-lovers as the conductor of many Wagner operas broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera in the 1920’s and 30’s, especially as they featured singers such as Melchior and Flagstad; indeed, it is understandably assumed that Wagner was his exclusive domain. His commercial recordings, made in Berlin in the late 20’s and expertly restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, are collected here for the first time since they appeared on 78’s. Wagner still predominates but also here are five opera overtures and an orchestral showpiece from the works of six other composers which demonstrate other aspects of his artistry.

Common to all are rapid tempi and sharp ensemble, a sense of forward-moving propulsion and a kind of no-nonsense musicality which eschews any exaggerated emotive gestures but consistently engages the ear. However, there’s nothing hurried about the stately introduction to the Tannhäuser Overture, whose introduction builds mightily and steadily before surging into the bacchanalian frenzy and bitter-sweet love music of the central passage and in the closing section there is a lovely balance between tension and control in the contrast between the strings’ muttering arpeggios under the hieratic proclamation of the horns, all couched in a carefully graded dynamic curve. The two Lohengrin Preludes are respectively otherworldly and energised, even if the latter is perhaps the one piece that for my taste is simply taken too fast, such that it becomes garbled. The Meistersinger Overture is grand and straightforward.

The remastered sound is remarkably fine for recordings ninety years old, as good and listenable as many a mono recording made thirty years later, with some hiss—rather more in the Suppé—but no distortion and exceptional clarity, allowing us to hear, for example, the timbre of individual wind instruments in the dreamy opening section and the quality of the solo violin in the middle of the charming overture to Orpheus in the Underworld. The concluding can-can finale is taken at an almost absurd clip but the players keep up and the result is both thrilling and great fun. There’s plenty of Viennese lilt and Schwung in the Fledermaus overture, and in general Bodansky displays an appropriately humorous and relaxed touch in the lighter music. It certainly shows another side to a conductor invariably associated with Wagnerian gravitas; on this evidence, Bodansky was very much more than a Wagner specialist.

Ralph Moore

WAGNER: Tannhäuser: Overture; Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1; Prelude to Act 3; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Overture.
MOZART: Die Zauberflöte: Overture.
BERLIOZ: The Damnation of Faust: Hungarian March.
THOMAS: Mignon: Overture.
OFFENBACH: Orpheus in the Underworld: Overture
: Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna: Overture.
J. STRAUSS II: Die Fledermaus: Overture

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