28 March 2013

Testament Records gifted us with 2 new additions to Klemperer's Bruckner discography and one misprinted album

For a long time, Testament Records has been doing a great job in churning out previously unissued recordings of many eminent conductors, some with much historical interest and a few with historic significance as well. For this Bruckner enthusiast, Testament's Bruckner CDs and LPs are of immense interest to me. This Easter, two new additions to Otto Klemperer's Bruckner discography appear on this label.

One (SBT2 1477) is Bruckner's 7th coupled with Mozart's 40th, recorded live in November 1965 in Royal Festival Hall, London. No exact date is given. Another (SBT2 1485) is Bruckner's 5th coupled with Schubert's Unfinished, with a given broadcast date of 21 March 1967. Both are with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. All are mono recordings. The copyright of these 2 albums is held by the BBC, and apparently the master tapes are kept in the British Library Sound Archives. Digital remastering was done by Paul Baily at Re:Sound, and Testament paid for the editing and digital remastering.

I'm lucky to have an early listening to these CDs, thanks to the efficient and speedy ordering policy of the local importer, Shun Cheong Record. My early impression is that while these recordings can capture the "magic" of Klemperer on the fly, they also reveal a sort of Jekyll and Hyde nature of Klemperer's interpretative trait. The Seventh is dotted with shards of tempestuous tantrums here and there, and you're given quite a rough ride within and across movements, augmented somewhat by the limitation of the sound in the recording and the widely-known dry acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall. I wouldn't say it is a very charming addition to the many extant Klemperer's Bruckner 7 recordings, but the genuine frisson of the night is well captured and can be felt almost viscerally, for example in the aggressive waves of development in the first movement. It is an unmistakably intense reading.

The Fifth, recorded 2 years later, is a different scene. Klemperer's famed architectural control is evident here. If the Seventh in 1965 represents a manic, or at least hypomanic, level, this Fifth in 1967 symbolises a more neutral mental state, with gleams of brooding in the woodwinds and particularly in the Adagio. It can easily become a loveable part of Klemperer's Bruckner discography. The Schubert Unfinished in another disc is palpably touching. This 2-CD set is one that I would not part with.

The story does not stop here. Testament has given us another talking point, and maybe also a rush of excitement from collectors, in SBT2 1485. They mix up the 2 CDs. Disc 1 is supposed to contain the music of Bruckner 5 and Disc 2 the Unfinished as printed both in the booklet notes and the back inlay. However, what is in Disc 1 is the Schubert and in Disc 2 the Bruckner. I don't know whether they will remedy this in the near future, but if you're a collector of misprinted CDs, go get one as early as you can lest they would soon recall this first batch.

Testament SBT2 1485

The 2 misprinted CDs

These two double-CD sets have proudly joined their companions in Klemperer's Bruckner CDs as in the following picture:

Some of Klemperer's Bruckner symphony CDs

P.S. I've emailed John Berky about this error and he replied that he had passed along this message of misprinted CDs to Testament Records. Hopefully they will remedy this soon, although for me this error will not affect my listening pleasure. After all, what is in a name, or a label in this instance?

24 March 2013

The interesting case of Heinz Bongartz's Bruckner Symphony No.6 recording

Although it was known that Heinz Bongartz had made other recordings of Bruckner symphonies (B7 with RSO Leipzig on 10 April 1948 and the D minor with Dresdner Philharmoniker on 12 Nov 1950), apparently only one is now extant: Symphony No. 6 recorded in December 1964 with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. This recording has been well-known for many years among Bruckner fans, not least because of its scarcity in its original CD re-issue by Berlin Classics (although it is still available in a Berlin Classics box-set, and lately from Klassik Haus Restorations). Some would consider it the "holy grail"of the recordings of this symphony, but others would be less than pleased.

My impression with this recording is one of dissatisfaction with the CD especially its brass outbursts. There can be no doubt that the Adagio is really lovely and moving. However I was not satisfied with this conclusion. I was wondering if so many Bruckner aficionados think so highly of this recording, there must be a reason for it. I wanted to ascertain if it is the problem of the remastering in the CD re-issue that mars an originally excellent recording.

So I turned to the LPs. This recording was originally issued by VEB Deutsche Schallplatten (VEBDS) in the former GDR on 2 Eterna LPs (8 20 540-541). The stereo version from Eterna is 8 25 540-541. Since 1954, Deutsche Grammophone from the former West Germany had started co-operations with VEBDS, and it was followed shortly afterwards by Philips and EMI. One form of cooperation is for these companies to pay VEBDS for the right to distribute an existing VEBDS recording on their own label in the West. Thus came the Philips version of this recording in stereo on 835 388 LY, which has a deluxe gatefold cover with the sleeve holding the single LP between the 2 halves of the cover, and a cloth-bound spine. 

Eterna black label 8 25 540-541

Philips 835 388 LY

The Philips issue is a joy to look at and to hold in hands, but its deficiency lies in the single LP. The Adagio is split onto two sides of the LP: Side One has the first movement and the beginning of the Adagio, and Side Two contains the concluding part of the Adagio and the last 2 movements. It compares poorly with the Eterna release with each side of the 2 LPs holding each movement of the symphony.

What I have suspected but never really anticipated is the effect of the sound difference between these LPs and the CD on the overall impression of the interpretation. The strident and shrilling brass on the CD, particularly in bars 24-28 at the beginning of the first movement, becomes convincingly impactful but never so coarse and harsh on the CD. The timpani, well heard in bar 28 when the brass stops, is solid and distinct rather than the slightly muffled sound on the CD. All the instruments are more "airy" on the LPs. The result is a truly marvellous recording. 

Comparing the two issues of LPs from either sides of the then Berlin Wall, the sound is more lively with a bigger dynamic range on the Eterna LPs, albeit with a little more surface noise, while the sound is warmer, making the Adagio even more lovely, on the Philips release. I won't be tempted to make the difficult choice of which LP version is better -- I'm truly happy to hold on to both.

I don't want to go into the everlasting argument of whether LPs or CDs are better as I naively reckon it is an utter waste of time.

However given this particular experience, I'd suggest that if you want this recording, don't waste time and money on the original CD re-issue on Berlin Classics. Go for either, or even better both, of these LPs and you won't regret.  Now this recording, in its vinyl version, will comfortably sit in my favourite list of this symphony. 

21 March 2013

Cristian Mandeal's Bruckner cycle is coming back on CDs

This is a Bruckner cycle recorded between 1984 and July 1989 with the Clug-Napoca Philharmonic Orchestra, finishing a few months before the collapse of the Ceausescu regime in Romania. All are analogue studio recordings. The fact that such a cycle could materialise in those turbulent and difficult times in Romania is a little miracle in itself.

Cristian Mandeal studied piano, composition and conducting at the Music High School in Brasov and the Music Academy in Bucharest, Romania. Later he also studied with Herbert von Karajan in the 1980s and with Sergei Celibidache in the 1990s.  In the UK, he was Principal Guest Conductor with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester until the end of the 2008/2009 season. He is currently Principal Guest Conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic.

This cycle was originally released in several LPs by Electrecord, but understandably difficult to obtain in the West at those times. With the advent of CDs, only Symphony No. 7 was re-issued. For a while the only way to obtain this cycle is through John Berky's website via digital download. Now this cycle will be re-issued in Japan by the end of March.

It is great news to lovers of Bruckner's music indeed.

01 March 2013

Update on "Homemade" partial Bruckner cycles

An update on the "Homemade" partial Bruckner cycle page (listed under the blog title) was made, with pictures on Ivor Bolton's and Jaap van Zweden's ongoing work posted.