ICA Classics – Hans Rosbaud conducts Debussy and Sibelius

0 of 5 stars

Trois Nocturnes
Jeux – poème dansé
Symphony No.6 in D minor, Op.104

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [now WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln]
Hans Rosbaud

Recorded in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, Cologne – 21 April 1952 (Sibelius), 26 April 1954 (Jeux) and 7 March 1955

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2013
Duration: 72 minutes



Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) is the perfect example of an underrated great conductor; today, his natural successor Michael Gielen may be similarly categorised (sadly). Rosbaud’s fidelity to the score and his dedication in realising it do not preclude imagination or imagery, as ‘Nuages’, the first of Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes, hauntingly demonstrates, lit darkly from within, and expressive without ever becoming schmaltzy. It is extraordinarily compelling. The succeeding ‘Fêtes’ is exhilarating and vibrant, wonderfully clear (the amazingly good sound and its non-interventionist re-mastering give excellent reproduction), Rosbaud bringing out the small print as well as the revelling bigger picture. Finally ‘Sirènes’, quite swift in its current, rather dangerous in fact, and no less alluring, the ladies of the chorus remarkably in-tune, not guaranteed in this music, Rosbaud the master of the music’s letter and spirit.

Pierre Boulez is a huge admirer of Rosbaud, and has also spoken of the seminal influence of Debussy’s Jeux, nominally a ballet score, but rather more an orchestral masterpiece. Rosbaud, once again, has looked with forensic attention at Debussy’s notation, and then gone beyond it with X-Ray capability; the result is a hypnotic performance, full of detail, subtlety and newness, stressing the forward-looking vision of Debussy’s remarkable piece, yet it glows too with the plumage of Stravinsky’s The Firebird.

The Sibelius is the surprise package. This wonderfully enigmatic work, the composer’s equivalent of “cold water”, so concise yet so generous too, from those opening bars rich in Palestrina-like polyphony, Rosbaud displays an ideal fusion of devotion and respect – and also a total intellectual grasp of this so-personal music. If, for whatever reason (artificially boosted, maybe), some of the dynamics are on the over-loud side (from between 2’09” and 2’55” in the first movement, for example), Rosbaud seeks maximum expression from it, and also organic growth, although some will find him too literal with the ‘molto moderato’ marking, but the music is laid bare for the patient listener to examine it. The middle movements – respectively slow-ish and scherzo-like – also enjoy Rosbaud’s penchant for discipline and elucidation (don’t mistake this for dryness). In the finale, very intense and edgy here, the opening is already fully up to the marked Allegro molto, the rest of the movement following in related fashion until the hymnal music, sonorously delivered, and then the fade-away, mysterious coda.

Another aspect of Rosbaud’s greatness is that he persuades the Cologne orchestra that it can do anything and convinces us that these works were fixtures in its repertoire; almost certainly the Sibelius was not. The playing is totally accustomed to both composers and to the conductor’s perceptive clarity. Following the great Rosbaud Mahler 5 that ICA Classics has already issued (link below), this release is in the same league; and a bouquet to Dirk Franken for his beautifully cleaned-up and vivid re-mastering yet without souring the sound in any way; there are too few restoration engineers that can do this. This “First CD Release” is certainly a collector’s item.

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