Carl Schuricht-collection - Brahms: German Requiem

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Carl Adolph Schuricht (1880–1967), like many another podium great of the past, has his legions of loyal champions. But going on 40 years after his...
Carl Adolph Schuricht (1880–1967), like many another podium great of the past, has his legions of loyal champions. But going on 40 years after his death, he has yet to achieve the larger-than-life, legendary status of a Furtwängler, Mengelberg, or Toscanini. Why this should be so is a bit of a mystery, for even if he may have lacked some of their charismatic character, his was unquestionably one of the keenest and most insightful of musical intellects.

Born in Danzig (Gdansk, Poland), Schuricht began to learn violin and piano at the age of six. By 11, he had written both the music and librettos to two operas; these accomplishments led to a scholarship that allowed him to study composition under Engelbert Humperdinck, and then Max Reger. His conducting career began in earnest with his appointment to the Wiesbaden Städtische Symphonieorchestra in 1912. A year later, in that post, he conducted, not the first, but certainly one of the early performances of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Engagements in London, Berlin, and Vienna would follow, as would guest conductorships in Frankfurt and Dresden. His first visit to the US came as early as 1927. Post WW II, he toured the US more extensively, being invited in 1957 to conduct at the Chicago Symphony Festival at Ravinia and at the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood.

The mainstays of Schuricht’s repertoire were the late-Romantic Austro-German masters—Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, and Strauss. But he was equally at home in Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky; and he ventured fearlessly into the “moderns” of the day—Bartók, Hindemith, Honegger, Schoenberg, Debussy, Ravel, even Werner Egk and Gottfried von Einem. In fact, what took me rather by surprise in my research for this review was the vastness of Schuricht’s recorded legacy, something one would not be led to expect from the limited subset of recordings available on a number of popular Web sites. But a Web page of available Schuricht recordings I happened upon——had been updated only days before I began to write this, and listed some 720 entries. Granted, many are duplications—i.e., the same performances acquired, transferred, and pressed by different labels—but still the list is impressive, not just in numbers but in some unusual and unexpected repertoire. For example, I note another Hänssler offering—I presume in this same series—of a violin concerto by Hermann Goetz, an Archiphon release of Delius’s Sea Drift, and a Melisma CD of a cello concerto by a composer I’ve honestly never heard of, named Flössner. As I perused this list, I also noted that Hänssler Classic appears to have undertaken a major effort on behalf of Schuricht, for at least two dozen of the most recent entries are theirs.

On one point there appears to be general agreement, and that is that Schuricht was a “modern” conductor: his tempos tended towards the quick side, the sound he cultivated was one of transparency, and his interpretations were mindful of the composer’s written score. In this regard, he is seen as belonging less to the world of Furtwängler than to a later generation of conductors who would follow.

The two CDs under consideration bear out this assessment. The Brahms Second Symphony, (the conductor’s last recording with the Stuttgart Süddeutscher Rundfunk, and which, given its late date of 1966 is likely in stereo, though it is not so indicated) does not dawdle. If anything, in fact, I would have preferred a slightly slower pace for the Adagio, which could have benefited from a bit more expansive phrasing and shaping. This is a movement I want to last. Compensation comes, however, from the sound and playing of the orchestra, which is positively aglow with the deep reds, burnt oranges, and buttery golds of autumn foliage in full pride.

The two choral works that fill out this disc, Schicksalslied and Nänie, were recorded a dozen years earlier than the Symphony, yet still sound remarkably good. The sonic image is a bit flatter, but the chorus and orchestra are actually better balanced than they are in a number of modern recordings. Though the literary point of departure for Schicksalslied is secular rather than sacred, (based on Schiller’s poem, Hyperion’s Song of Destiny) it is not that far removed, either in time or in character of style and content, from Brahms’s writing in A German Requiem. Nänie, a much later work dating from 1881, is again a Schiller-based Greek mythology brew, but one that did not seem to inspire Brahms to his best efforts; it has never been one of the composer’s most admired pieces. It was composed as an ode or lament for Anselm Feuerbach, an artist and friend of the composer; but Brahms’s emotional response sounds more manufactured than deeply felt, as if he were forcing himself to go through the motions of mourning. The performance seems not as alert or well rehearsed as that of Schicksalslied. A moment or two of slightly off-the-mark intonation in the chorus is a bit unsettling.

Little needs be said about Ein Deutsches Requiem. It is one of music’s choral monuments, and has remained one of Brahms’s most popular works since it was first presented in 1869 in the final form we know today. Even if Schuricht’s reading in this performance left anything to be desired—which it absolutely does not—many will want this CD for the contributions of Maria Stader and Hermann Prey. If Prey’s delivery of Herr, lehre doch mich doesn’t send a chill up your spine, I can’t imagine anything that will. The surprise, though, is the tempo Schuricht sets for this movement. It is faster than I have ever heard it, further evidence that this was a conductor who took to heart Mahler’s admonition, nicht shleppend. Stader positively soars in her radiant rendition of “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit.” Yet again, Schuricht’s reading of Brahms’s langsam marking moves right along at a tempo that probably helps Stader rather than hinders her in supporting her long-arching phrases.

These releases are not just important historical documents, they are outstanding performances.

-- Jerry Dubins, FANFARE [reviewing this CD and Hänssler 93143]

Product Description:

  • Release Date: October 15, 2004

  • UPC: 040888314424

  • Catalog Number: 93144

  • Label: SWR Classic

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: ""

  • Composer: Johannes Brahms

  • Conductor: Carl Schuricht

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Southwest German Radio Vocal Ensemble

  • Performer: Hermann Prey, Maria Stader