Author Topic: Reger's Mozart Variations, and Schumann's Konzertstück für vier Hörner  (Read 3570 times)

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Offline Scott

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Reger: Variations on a Theme of Mozart; Schumann: Concertpiece for 4 Horn and Orchestra; Weber: Oberon Overture; Naumann: Te deum
Herbert Blomstedt, cond.; Peter Damm et al., horns; Dresden Staatskapelle & Semper Opera Chorus
Profil PH07003

5/5 stars

The Reger and Schumann Knocked Me Out!

Frankly I didn't have terribly high hopes for this release. I vastly admire the artistry of both Herbert Blomstedt and the Dresden Staatskapelle but my experience with the recent stream of releases on the Profil label (run by Günter Hänssler, familiar from his eponymous label) has been highly variable. These releases seem to stem mostly from live concerts, generally broadcast concerts, by German ensembles and some of them have been really bad. (Others, to be fair, have been excellent.) Still, I wanted to hear Blomstedt and this orchestra, and I particularly wanted to hear the Reger because the Dresden orchestra has always had a very strong connection with his music, having played this work with such conductors as Fritz Busch, Karl Böhm, Joseph Keilberth and Franz Konwitschny, all former principal conductors of the Staatskapelle. Also this recording came from a high point in the orchestra's history, a time when they were playing so beautifully as to make angels cry. This performance was recorded on March 13, 1990 at a concert celebrating the 100th birthday of Fritz Busch.

Well, I was simply bowled over both by the beauty of the Staatskapelle's playing and by the subtlety, grace and power of Blomstedt's interpretation. The Mozart Variations is based on the first theme of Mozart's A Major Sonata, K.331 -- the Mozart sonata that Harry Truman delighted in playing on the White House piano for guests (!) -- and can come across as either trivial or clunky, depending on the conductor's conception and the level of the orchestra's artistry. This, not to put too fine a point on it, is the most exalted performance of the work that I've ever heard. I cannot describe how gorgeous the orchestra sounds. Part of that, surely, is the engineering (Günter Neubert) and the hall's ambience (the Semperoper in Dresden), but mostly it is that this is a supremely beautiful performances. Such pianissimi, such supreme blending, such contrapuntal clarity, such gossamer strings, such exalted solo wind passages!

Peter Damm, in his day, was one of the world's great horn players and he was for years the principal horn (1967-2002) of the Staatskapelle. He and his section were renowned among cognoscenti. And here, in a 1981 concert, they get to play the Schumann Konzertstück, the most important four-horn concerted piece ever written. This is a superb performance. The 1990 performance of Weber's Oberon Overture is pretty mainstream and not necessarily a first choice, but then I doubt anyone is buying this CD for the Oberon Overture, or for Johann Gottlieb Naumann's Te Deum which concludes the CD. I had never heard it before. Naumann (1741-1801) had a strong Dresden connection, having been kapellmeister there for many years. Still his Te Deum is fourteen minutes of sub-Mozartian choral bombast which I doubt I'll be reaching for again.

For the Reger and the Schumann, this CD is a winner and those two works make this release important.

Scott Morrison

Without music, life would be a mistake. -- Nietzsche