Walter Braunfels – Recommended Recordings

The discography of Walter Braunfels’ work is still dismal but, as the example of Weinberg shows us, that can change quickly—it will have to, and it will. There simply is too much great music out there, and many fine musicians tired of the same-old repertoire will find their way to it. Meanwhile, the curious listener has to make do with what little there is, most of which is thankfully of superb standards. If you are unsure about his music, start with the Phantastical Appearances, then the String Quintet. You should be hooked by then and go down either the secular or operatic route first, according to personal preference.

245 Jeanne D’Arc, Manfred Honeck, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

& Choir, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir’ Juliane Banse et al., Decca

4099953

A terrific opera in a wonderful recording from Swedish Radio that Decca issued, but unfortunately not world-wide, and for now only available as a European import. The arts team at Decca put Lady Godiva on the cover, which is momentarily confusing (and tasteless), but it’s all Jean of Arc on the inside.

Die Vögel / The Birds Lothar Zagrosek, Deutsches Symphonie Orch-
ester Berlin, Berlin Radio Chorus, Helen Kwon, Endrik Wottrich et al., Decca 448679

James Conlon, LA Opera, Darko Tresnjak (director), Désirée Rancatore, Brandon Jovanovich et al., Arthaus Musik DVD 101529 or Bluray 101530

The choice here really is one of seeing or just hearing an opera . . .mine is hearing. As for the seeing, the LA Opera staging looks like [HA8] a 500.000 [HA8]dollar high school production, big-budget hokum that might intend to be naïve, but ends up naff—from the non-existent acting and pedestrian ballet section to the corny makeup and costumes. Musically, Conlon’s LA performance, like Zagrosek’s, is first rate, except for the poor German of more than half his—Conlon’s—cast. The music is marvelous, but the libretto for this quasi-Magic Flute opera from Braunfels’ early 30s can’t hold a candle to the mature mastery in Jeanne D’Arc.

Verku ̈ndigung Dennis Russell Davis, Cologne Symphony Orchestra,

EMI 555104

Maybe as a sort of perverse revenge for Claudel not allowing a French version, EMI provides the libretto only in German. The production and its German cast of singers is wonderful, in every other way and one can only hope for a reissue—then, perhaps, with the libretto in other languages as well.

Walter Braunfels: Beauty and Eternal Order 77

Great Mass, Manfred Honeck, Stuttgart State Orchestra & Opera Cho-
rus, Decca 2894810333

It would be silly to suggest that the performance that Honeck conducted and which he happily convinced Decca to publish on CD, could not be bettered. The soloists, for one, did not all excel. Especially bass Attila Jun seemed to struggle, and the orchestra could have used a few more days in rehearsal, too. But their performance was spirited and committed throughout, enough to ensure that the work got the fastidious, warm performance it deserved. And on CD, perhaps because of edits, it sounds even cleaner than my memory of the performance would have had it.

Te Deum Manfred Honeck, Gitta-Maria Sjöberg, Lars-Erik Jonsson,

250 Swedish Radio Orchestra & Chorus, Orfeo 679071

Günter Wand, Leonie Rysanek, Helmut Melchert, Cologne RSO,

251 Gürzenich Choir, Profil 026002 (also on: Acanta 233670)

Honeck is gracious—and right—to mention the Günter Wand recording, because even the 1952 sound can’t hamper the emotional quality of his performance. While Honeck’s grasp and Orfeo’s crisp sound make it the obvious first choice, Wand is the disciple’s pick.

Phantastical Appearances ofa Theme by Hector Berlioz, Günter Wand, West

253 German RSO, Profil 026004

254 Dennis Russell Davies, Vienna RSO, CPO 999882

The Fantastic Appearances was recorded in 2001 by Dennis Russell Davies, who is to be praised for a sumptuous performance on the CPO label, with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. However, Gunter Wand adds a touch of greatness to it in his 1953 recording, which, in good monaural sound with the Cologne Radio Symphony [HA9] Orchestra, is more bracing and exciting. This might be the recording to listen to. But, just to make it more difficult, Dennis Russell Davies throws in Braunfels’ substantial, very beautiful Serenade for Chamber Orchestra which, in an either-or case, tilts the scales back toward Davies.

String Quintet (plus Adolf Busch, String Sextet), ARC Ensemble, RCA

257 764490

258 This is not to be missed by lovers of chamber music.

259 String Quartets 1 & 2, Auryn String Quartet, CPO 999406

78 The Composers

The String Quartets, substantive works of somber beauty, are out of print in CD format right now, but are available used, as downloads, and streams . . . and hopefully they’ll come back, either in these very fine, or other performances.

Concerto for Organ, Boys Choir, and Orchestra; Toccata, Adagio & Fugue for organ; Symphonic Variations on an old French Folksong, Iveta Apkalna (organ), Munich Symphony, Tölz Boys’ Choir, Hansjörg Albrecht (conductor, organ), Oehms 411

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted the premiere of this Catholic concerto, written for the organist and cantor of the St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig, Günther Ramin. With its chorales, it follows stylistically the Great Mass and the Te Deum; the bold and dramatic gestures of the first movement put it in the proximity of heavy German romantics à la Max Reger and Josef Rheinberger before it starts to wax lyrically, leading to the chorale ‘‘Welcome Mother of God, house of God, Purest Light’’. The Symphonic Variations are lush late-romanticism much like the Berlioz Variations. In the late Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, Braunfels pares down his vocabulary to the essential.

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