Knappertsbusch - The Complete RIAS Recordings (5 CD box set, APE)
Knappertsbusch - The Complete RIAS Recordings (5 CD box set, APE)

Audio CD
Number of Discs: 5 CD box set
Label: Audite / Naxos
Size: 1.05 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

CD 01
A.Bruckner – Symphonie Nr.9
F.Schubert – Symphonie Nr.8

CD 02
A.Bruckner – Symphonie Nr.8

CD 03
L. van Beethoven – Symphonie Nr.8
J.Strauss II – One Thousand and One Nights (Intermezzo)
O.Nicolai – The Merry Wives of Windsor (ouverture)
J.Haydn – Symphonie Nr.94

CD 04
P.I.Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker Suite, op.71a
J.Strauss II – Die Fledermaus (ouverture)
J.Strauss II – Pizzicato Polka
K.Komzak II – Bad’ner Mad’ln
F.Schubert – Symphonie Nr.8

CD 05
A.Bruckner – Symphonie Nr.9

Miraculous breath of life

The Bruckner, Schubert, and Beethoven performances are amazing. Moreover, the quality of the recordings is absolutely phenomenal. Yes, if you happen to know they were taped in 1950, you will find ways to notice this. There is a bit of an electronic “edge” to the sound, particularly in the high notes. It seems a tiny bit metallic and artificial, with the occasional “I am biting on aluminum feeling.” Nonetheless, there is nothing less than the breath of life in these amazing remasters. This boxed set is nothing short of a miraculous glimpse into to the work of one of the greatest conductors of all time, brought to you by audio engineers who understand the worth of the work.

I bought this principally for the Bruckner and Schubert. The BPO in the pre-Karajan epoch sounds like they must have hired every single bass player in Europe, and it is quite noticeable on recordings of the opening S#8. For me the Beethoven #8 was a big surprise and total delight. I have always viewed B#8 as a place holder, a Classical throwback to earlier work similar in some ways to Schubert’s #5. But Knappertsbusch performs it in full-blown, late Romantic style. I am sure HIPsters, who wish B#8 to be played by a string quartet with un-rosined bows and no vibrato, will dislike it. I am not sure that it is my “reference” version. But it is a very interesting performance that shows the range of possible interpretation. However it strikes you, I think it immensely unlikely that will ever hear B#8 performed this way live or even on a disc recorded since about 1960.

Fabulous! Warhorse symphonies in distinctive performances

I purchased this set directly at the suggestion of Bernard Michael O’Hanlon, a man known around the world as the irreplaceable and esteemed President of the Australian Knappertsbusch Society. Bernard suggested that I pick up this set, and I’m really glad I took him up on it. It’s really marvelous.

I think the performances of Bruckner’s 9th (live), Schubert’s 8th, Haydn’s Surprise symphony, and Beethoven’s 8th are all wonderful. The lighter Strauss & Lehar works are also well done. There’s nothing in this set not worth listening to, and a lot of it is distinctive. It’s a welcome addition to an overflowing CD collection.

Herbert von Karajan apparently loved to tell a Knappertsbusch anecdote, and it’s one that I find hilarious, so I’m going to post it here. Kna was well known for his dislike of rehearsals. Apparently he was preparing the Vienna Philharmonic for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony. After perfunctorily going through the first movement, Kna said to the orchestra, “Gentlemen, you know the music, I know the hall, I’ll see you tonight.” As he was heading off, the solo horn in the orchestra (who has a prominent solo in the second movement) protested. “Maestro, I’m new, I’ve never played this piece in concert.” Without missing a beat, Knappertsbusch said, “Oh, it’s beautiful music–you’ll love it!” as he headed off the stage.

Don’t tell Long John Silver !!!

True, I’m becoming a Crusader Rabbit but this latest act of generosity by my friend JL needs to be promulgated and all the more so as this box has yet to be reviewed.

What a treasure this is!

Here, Audite sourced the original tapes of the concerts that Kna undertook with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1950 – 1952. Some of the performances are not new to me (and I have reviewed them as such) but the sound is an improvement: someone deserves a medal! There’s duplication here: the Bruckner Ninth and the Schubert Eighth were both recorded twice, firstly for radio broadcast and then later in a concert at the Titania Palast (the former is to be preferred in both instances, if only to avoid the wheezes of the Berlin audience).

If you revel in the Berlin Philharmonic of yore going FULL THROTTLE without Furtwangler-isms or Herbie-izations, this box-set is for you. What a pity Kna was not empurpled upon the death of Furtwangler in 1954 if only for a five year reign – Herbie did bugger all recording-wise with the Berlin Philharmonic in the years running up to 1960.

The biggest surprise here is the so-called light music. Some would say – a priori, I hasten to add – that Kna puts the T in Teutonic but he refutes this suggestion in the Nutcracker Suite which is stylishly done with plenty of humour (mind you, the Berlin Philharmonic has always revelled in Tchaikovsky). That being said, the Dance of the Reeds from 1’40” onwards sounds somewhat Brucknerian but gloriously so. And what a Die Fledermaus this is! Behold, Kna waves his magic wand and the Berlin Philharmonic is momentarily transformed into its Viennese counterpart in its lilt and froth. Better still, has Strauss’ Tausend und eine Nacht ever sounded more noble? Here it sounds like an Ultimate Statement – and I worried that it was going to blow the roof off! This performance of Opus 346 is one of the Berlin Philharmonic’s greatest accomplishments. Wow!

As mentioned elsewhere, the Bruckner and Haydn are exemplary. The Beethoven Eighth is leisurely paced but it is a lesson on how to develop the momentum of a freight-train where tempo is but a secondary consideration. Its humour is vividly characterised, not least in its rhythms.

As great as the Bruckner is, I am starting to think that the highlight of this box set is the radio-broadcast performance of Schubert’s Eighth Symphony. One wonders whether the double-basses in the first movement are ever going to bottom out as they descend into the depths. The slow movement is masterfully shaped: the big climax in the first half is stunningly played and yet somehow the Berlin Philharmonic finds a `sixth gear’ in the second half of the movement when it is repeated. It left me gobsmacked. I cannot think of a blacker, more ferocious account of this masterpiece. It eclipses my previous favourite Brahms: Symphony No.3 / Schubert: Symphony No.8. It is pitiless in its vision: there is no God or Heaven or even a Devil but there is certainly a Hell.

This box set is fully endorsed by the President of the Australian Kna Association (guess who that is). Gun stuff.

9 Comments

  1. Mr. A.
    Thank you for reuploadingt these RIA recordings of Knappertsbusch.
    He’s such a consumate conductor.
    Bravo!
    Bob

  2. The more I listen to Kna the more I am convinced that he flies above all the other conductors – it’s a personal opinion, of course. Bruckner 9th is unique in scope and breadth. One would only wish he had recorded more. Again, endless thanks!

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