Hans Knappertsbusch (Μαέστρος)
CD 1L. V. BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos No. 4*; Piano Concerto No. 5° /Sir Clifford Curzon
CD 2BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2
CD 3BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 /Sir Clifford Curzon
CD 4BRAHMS: Academic Festival Overture; Tragic Overture; Haydn Variations; Alto Rhapsody /Lucretia West
CD 5BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3
CD 6BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 & WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll
CD 7BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 & WAGNER: Götterdämmerung (excerpts)
CDs 8–9BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8
CD 10RICHARD STRAUSS: Don Juan; Tod und Verklärung
CD 11WAGNER – The Polydor Recordings
CD 12WAGNER – The Decca 78s
CD 13WAGNER: Rienzi · Siegfried · Parsifal (excerpts)
CD 14WAGNER: Der fliegende Holländer; Die Walküre · Tannhäuser (orchestral music)
CD 15WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Tannhäuser; Tristan und Isolde; Parsifal (orchestral music)
CD 16WAGNER: Rienzi; Der fliegende Holländer; Lohengrin (orchestral music); Siegfried Idyll
CD 17VIENNA HOLIDAY Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II,; Karel Komzák II; Ziehrer
CD 18ALL-TIME POPULAR FAVOURITES Tchaikovsky; Schubert; Weber; Nicolai
MONO (CD1*, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11–14) /STEREO (CD1°, 4, 7–10, 15–18)
Gathered together for the first time on Universal Music labels, including several first CD releases on Decca, is the orchestral legacy of an inimitable genius of the podium: Hans Knappertsbusch.
Even in his own lifetime, Hans Knappertsbusch divided opinion, between listeners affronted by technical slips caused by his notorious aversion to rehearsal and those who saw in him the last representative of a performing tradition dating back to Richard Wagner. Working mostly in the opera houses of Munich and Vienna, he never became music director of a symphony orchestra, but his postwar Decca recordings of central repertoire from Beethoven to Strauss, including three distinguished concerto collaborations with Clifford Curzon, preserve interpretations of a flexibility, sweep and grandeur scarcely imaginable today.
For Decca, Knappertsbusch recorded with the great orchestras of London, Paris, Zurich, Geneva and Vienna. The orchestral discography began with Brahms’s Second Symphony with the Suisse Romande, Wagnerian ‘bleeding chunks’ in the Kingsway Hall in December 1947 and ended in February 1960 in the Sofiensaal of Vienna, conducting Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite with a delicacy and grace that will surprise listeners who think of him only as the high priest of Parsifal at Bayreuth. The box is full of such surprises: an album of Strauss waltzes and polkas that turns on a sixpence; nimble Bruckner scherzos; one of the swiftest versions of Tod und Verklärung on record.
Once introduced to Clifford Curzon, Knappertsbusch was immediately enthusiastic about performing and recording with ‘this great English gentleman’; their versions of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth and Brahms’s Second have long been mainstays of the Decca catalogue. Much else here is newly remastered and now widely available on Decca for the first time in many years, such as Wagnerian overtures and preludes with the Zurich Tonhalle (1947) and the London Philharmonic (1948) orchestras.
Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 3-5 (1954-6) preserve Knappertsbusch’s profound working relationship with the VPO at its most harmonious. A magnificently trenchant Brahms album with the VPO in 1957 also features Lucretia West in the Alto Rhapsody. For devotees and sceptics alike, this box offers revelations and the opportunity to reassess the art of a conductor held in the deepest affection by many of the musicians and singers who worked with him.
‘This … will please everyone who loves opulent brazen sound. As a Wagnerian, Prof. Knappertsbusch is plainly a great conductor … The Wagner of burlesque – lady wrestlers as Valkyries, heaving on Clydesdales and percherons; winds of two-miles-per-hour in the Dutchman’s hurricane … Still, the sound is splendid.’ High Fidelity, January 1954 (Wagner Preludes, VPO)
‘There is less heaviness, more flexibility and true Viennese spirit in his reading than in any of the others.’ High Fidelity, February 1956 (Bruckner, Symphony No. 4)
‘There apparently exists a wonderful rapport between the English virtuoso and the German conductor, for this performance is pervaded by a nearly tangible quality of artistic give-and-take.’ Stereo Review, April 1958 (Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5)
‘If you want a deliberate, large-scale reading of Brahms, Knappertsbusch is your man. He is as unhurried as Gibraltar.’ High Fidelity, March 1958 (Brahms: Overtures and Haydn Variations)
‘Readings of great power and eloquence – almost of a hypnotic nature. From first to last each work has an inevitability about its unfolding which is akin to the unravelling of a ball of wool.’ Stereo Review, April 1958 (Brahms: Overtures and Haydn Variations)
‘Knappertsbusch approaches these Strauss favourites in the old world manner conducting the music carefully and easily.’ Stereo Review, June 1960 (Johann Strauss: Waltzes & Polkas)
‘A wholly absorbing experience … The craggy grandeur of Bruckner’s huge Eighth Symphony is illuminated with convincing eloquence.’ Stereo Review, April 1964
‘This collection of pop-concert miniatures could not be more delightful. The Nutcracker is light and airy … full of careful attention to instrumental details overlooked in most other versions.’ High Fidelity, February 1969