Rosamunde, D644 – Overture
Symphony No.9 in D minor
Christian Ferras (violin)
Recorded 17 August 1960 in Neues Festspielhaus, Salzburg
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2012
CD No: TESTAMENT
SBT2 1472 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes
This very welcome release is a fine tribute to Joseph Keilberth (1908-68), the conductor who died a musician’s death – he collapsed while conducting Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at Bavarian State Opera (Munich).
The Schubert is an excellent curtain-raiser, expressive, pointed and moderate in tempo: the music is fully expressed. A full-toned Berlin Philharmonic lacks nothing in clarity and the recording is excellent mono enjoying immediacy and vividness. Keilberth’s affection for the music is endearing; he finds within it grandeur and warmth and adds a touch of greasepaint.
Following sweet Schubert, there is a very different side to this Austrian-triangle of a concert, Alban’s Berg’s swansong, his Violin Concerto, itself “To the memory of an angel” – she being the 18-year-old Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler (the composer’s widow) and architect Walter Gropius. French violinist Christian Ferras (1933-82) gives an impassioned account of the solo part – daring, brimful of character, and also accurate. It’s a tremendously emotional performance. Ferras’s intensity is rather startling at times, although he can certainly withdrew and also cultivate a wide range of colour, timbre and dynamics. The orchestral response is notably well-prepared, although not every detail reaches the microphones and is sometimes obscured by the larger than life image afforded Ferras. It’s a gut-wrenching and moving performance and must have been mesmerising for the audience; we are left in no doubt as to the white-hot endeavour with which Berg composed this work as a memorial to Manon.
Equally compelling is Keilberth’s conducting of Bruckner’s last will and testament (no pun!), the unfinished Ninth Symphony, an account spacious and sure-footed – convincingly proportioned with the outer movements lasting for a similar 25-minute length. The composer was journeying on new musical directions, his passions achingly nostalgic and full of trepidation. Keilberth and the Berliners (in 1960 the Berlin Philharmonic was a few years into the Karajan era with this music, moving away from the also-different interpretations of such as Furtwängler and Knappertsbusch) unfold the music with tension, generosity and flexibility, capturing the music’s striving, fear, lyrical beauty and harmonic strangeness. The scherzo has a good savage step, not so much brutally mechanical, more of stealth and gawky emphasis; the trio is curiously lacking momentum, though, yet it fits Keilberth’s already-established contrasts and characterisations. There is no lack of cohesiveness, however – a ground-plan that also informs the slow movement, with which the symphony comes to a premature end. Keilberth finds both fear and acceptance – to moving, sometimes-harrowing, effect. The recording – top-heavy with blaring brass at times – conveys a dark and powerful performance, faithful to Bruckner’s spirit and revealing of Keilberth’s particular brand of musicianship.