Euryanthe – Overture
Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in London in 1971 – Weber on 11 April in BBC Studios, Maida Vale; Tippett and Brahms on 14 April in the Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2008
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 70 minutes
BBC Legends is throwing up some very interesting material regarding musicians who may not be considered – now – to be of particularly celebrated status. One immediately thinks of Carl Schuricht conducting Brahms and Reger (link below) and, with this current release, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1900-73), the Berlin-born conductor who founded the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (Hamburg) in 1945 and conducted it until 1971. Schmidt-Isserstedt (whose son was the recording producer, Erik Smith) was I believe – but I am by no means certain – the first German conductor to work in London after the war; but what is more definite (pace Mike Ashman’s booklet note) is that Schmidt-Isserstedt’s Beethoven symphony-cycle, recorded from 1965 with the Vienna Philharmonic, was not “Decca’s first cycle of Beethoven symphonies in stereo”, for Ernest Ansermet’s Suisse Romande versions were completed in 1963.
This selection of Schmidt-Isserstedt’s conducting begins with a studio performance – one invigorating and atmospheric – of the overture to Weber’s opera “Euryanthe”. From Maida Vale to a Royal Festival Hall concert a few days later that included a remarkably fine rendition of Michael Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia, music notorious for challenging players’ rhythmic guile and intonational accuracy. This painstakingly rehearsed and beautifully played performance – Schmidt-Isserstedt clearly loves the music (indeed he was a Tippett enthusiast and performed, early on, the Concerto for double string orchestra and, it seems, should have led the premiere of Symphony No.2 in 1958 but that mantle was passed to Sir Adrian Boult) – is both lucid and ecstatic. Good to be reminded of the concertante contributions of BBCSO principals of the day, violinists Eli Goren and Béla Dekany (the latter spelt ‘Dakany’ in the booklet) and cellist Denis Vigay. Arguably, Tippett’s elaborate treatment of the original is realised here with slightly too much sentimentality, but it is certainly very touching and also a precious document.
Brahms’s Fourth Symphony (which two years later would be the last music Schmidt-Isserstedt conducted, just a week before he died) receives an interpretation that casts the work as indivisible in structure. Tempos are forward-moving and the movements’ proportions are just, but there is also yield, breathing space and dynamism. Indeed, as the performance develops one becomes more and more involved in resolute, fastidious and devoted music-making that always knows where it is going – and why.Hopefully, more Schmidt-Isserstedt performances will grace the BBC Legends catalogue.