Historic Brahms Conducting
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 05/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Max Fiedler (1859-1939) is the only conductor on record who knew Brahms over a lengthy period (Weingartner performed in front of Brahms only shortly before the composer's death). So what we have here are genuine historical artifacts of how a major conductor performed Brahms during the composer's lifetime. These transfers are the best I have heard - they are FAR superior to what is heard in Beulah's CD set "Original Brahms."
These interpretations are highly "romantic" in style, with numerous "luftpausen" and tempo shifts - Fiedler has no reluctance to slow down and "smell the roses" when the mood seizes him. In many respects, this mode of Brahms conducting is an early precursor to the highly "personal" readings of Furtwangler, Abendroth, and to a certain extent, Knappertsbusch. It is certainly miles apart from the strict rectitude of Weingartner and the steady, but highly nuanced pulse of Fritz Busch. The latter was a pupil of Fritz Steinbach, who was said to be Brahms' favorite conductor of the composer's symphonies.
The second symphony recorded here has a warmth and poetry that rank it, for me, among the finest interpretations ever, along with Furtwangler (his 1952 Berlin Phil. reading), Busch, and Schuricht (with the VPO). The 4th strikes me as somehwat less successful: some of the tempos drag, and several of the tempo shifts are unconvincing. Still, a fascinating reading nevertheless.
In the 2nd Piano concerto, Fiedler provides some of the most purely beautiful orchestral playing ever heard. To my ears, only Furtwangler (with Fischer) and Knappertsbusch (with Curzon) are in the same league. Pianist Elly Ney was something of a cult figure in Germany. Years ago, when I first heard this reading, her playing struck me as labored and rather inept. Perhaps I have mellowed in the mean time - while not a virtuoso, Ney does play with great feeling and is well-attuned to Fiedler's conducting. There are quite a few wrong notes here - but Schnabel (with Boult) had even more - and in the live concert with Furtwangler, Fischer misses whole handfuls. In the wrong notes department, the Swiss pianist wins hands down, so to speak. Among later recordings, Gilels is certainly more fluent with Jochum - but there is a certain glibness that comes with it.
Fiedler's account of the Academic Festival Overture is rather more conventional. A pleasure to hear, but I like Mengelberg and Knappertsbusch even more. Music & Arts has released a lovely Brahms Violin Concerto, where Fiedler accompanies the young Siegfied Borries. It is coupled with a very interesting reading of Schumann's "Spring" Symphony. Fiedler deeply admired the conducting of Hans von Bulow, who premiered important works by Brahms and Wagner. Perhaps Fiedler's Schumann gives us some idea of how Bulow would have performed it.
This is a fine set for collectors. It provides a useful perspective on interpretive styles that prevailed during Brahms' lifetime."