Classical Reissue Reviews

DEBUSSY: Trois Nocturnes; Jeux; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 6 in D Minor – Cologne Radio Choir/ Cologne Radio-Sym. Orch./ Hans Rosbaud – ICA Classics

German master conductor Hans Rosbaud displays equal authority in the music of Debussy and Sibelius.

Published on October 2, 2013

DEBUSSY: Trois Nocturnes; Jeux; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 6 in D Minor – Cologne Radio Choir/ Cologne Radio-Sym. Orch./ Hans Rosbaud – ICA Classics

DEBUSSY: Trois Nocturnes; Jeux; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 104 – Cologne Radio Choir/ Cologne Radio-Sym. Orch./ Hans Rosbaud – ICA Classics ICAC 5109, 71:50 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The late conductor Richard Kapp, whom I befriended in my “First Hearing” days on WQXR-FM, would speak with unabashed reverence of his teacher Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) as the musician “par excellence,” and master of many styles well beyond the stereotypical association he endured with only the Schoenberg School and its ilk. Those who recall the excellent work Rosbaud led in the music of Sibelius for DGG – for instance, the glowing renditions of Tapiola and the Bolero – will rejoice in the pellucid and wintry mysteries of the 1923 Sibelius Sixth Symphony from Cologne (21 April 1952). The composer called attention to its somber yet pastoral quality, an elusive lyrical quality that captures one’s imagination through flowing motifs and bird calls. Restrained but moody and even storm-laden, the work has found its adherents in the British conducting pantheon of Beecham, Barbirolli and Handley. But Rosbaud brings etched clarity to his palette, especially as the Allegro moderato second movement segues to the animated Poco vivace scherzo in trochaic rhythm. “What peace and deep devotion Nature can evoke in Man,” wrote Sibelius.  Add to this formula the presence of long shadows, and you have something of the kernel-driven energies of the D Minor Symphony. The last movement conveys a sense of natural litany, a cold paean to Nature; yet the writing proceeds in economical units, spare, the textures (especially strings over the tympani) haunted.

The program opens with Rosbaud’s incursions into the music of Debussy, works Rosbaud had cultivated in his days in Strasbourg. The concert of 7 March 1955 presents Rosbaud’s Trois Nocturnes, studies in shades of gray. As much as Rosbaud insists on textural clarity, a sensuous wash pervades the Nuages, whose tempos ebb and flow with subtle motion, devoid of Teutonic heaviness. Fetes trembles with high energy, the winds, harp, and brass in high militant gloss, thanks to remastering courtesy of Dirk Franken. The last of the grisailles, Sirenes, receives a richly liquid performance, as required. A pity Roger Desormiere never left us a comparison inscription to rival Rosbaud’s alluring female voices.

Debussy’s 1912 ballet Jeux (for Diaghilev) builds a huge rondo around a series of tiny motivic waltz kernels, the scenario a kind of menage a trios of tennis players.  Rosbaud impels the triple meters rife with syncopations and constant rubato. The entire aura of the performance remains luminous and eerily suggestive at once. Curiously, very few of the actual themes return in their original form, a testament to what Pierre Boulez calls “the idea of irreversible time.” That Rosbaud could elicit as powerful a realization as he does places him in the tradition of Victor de Sabata, who recorded it first, in 1947.

—Gary Lemco




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