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.
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 design-team at Decca put Lady Godiva on the cover, which is momentarily confusing (and in questionable taste), but it’s all Jean of Arc on the inside. Unfortunately out of print – get your act together, Decca! (See also: Notes from the 2013 Salzburg Festival ( 5 ) Jeanne D’Arc • Walter Braunfels)
Die Vögel / The Birds, Lothar Zagrosek, DSO Berlin, Berlin Radio Chorus, Helen Kwon, Endrik Wottrich et al., Decca 448679
The choice here really is one of seeing or just hearing the opera… mine, in this case, is decidedly hearing. As for the seeing, the LA Opera staging looks like a $500.000 high school production, big-budget hokum that might intend to seem 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 does not match the mature mastery in Jeanne D’Arc. The Decca recording in the Entartete Music series, meanwhile, may be the single most important recording of the Braunfels renaissance.
Verkündigung / The Annunciation, Ulf Schirmer, Munich Radio Orchestra, BR Chorus, Juliane Banse, Janina Baechle, Matthias Klink, Adrian Eröd, Hanna Schwarz, Mauro Peter, Robert Holl et al., BR Klassik 900311
Verkündigung / The Annunciation, Dennis Russell Davies, Cologne Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Claudia Ruggeberg, Andrea Trauboth, Sigismund Nimsgern, Chieko Shirasaka-Teratani et al., 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. Long out of print, was finally re-issued, shortly after the 2014 BR production came out. Either recording of this opera is worth having; the edge goes to the Bavarians, though. See also: Forbes.com, Classical CD Of The Week: Revelation Of A Mystery Play
Great Mass, Manfred Honeck, Stuttgart State Orchestra & Opera Cho-
rus, Simone Schneider, Gerhild Romberger, Matthias Klink, Attila Jun, Decca 2894810333
Great Mass, Jörg-Peter Weigle, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Berlin Philharmonic Chorus, Berliner Singakademie, S. Schneider, G. Romberger, Christian Elsner, Robert Holl, Capriccio C5267
It is great to have this important work in more than one recording, even if the Honeck recording is already out of print again. Both performances are spirited and committed throughout, enough so to ensure that the work gets the fastidious, warm outings it deserved. (See also my review of the Stuttgart re-premiere under Honeck: ionarts: Braunfels Is an Obligation for Me)
Te Deum, Manfred Honeck, Gitta-Maria Sjöberg, Lars-Erik Jonsson, Swedish Radio Orchestra & Chorus, Orfeo 679071
When Manfred Honeck recorded the Te Deum, the Günter Wand recording had not yet been re-issued. When it was, he did not fail to mention it in conversation, admiring it himself. Rightly so, because even the 1952 sound can’t hamper the emotional quality of his—Wand’s—performance. While Honeck’s grasp of the materia and Orfeo’s crisp sound make it the obvious first choice, Wand is the disciple’s pick.
Phantastical Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz, Günter Wand, West German RSO, Profil 026004
Phantastical Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz, Dennis Russell Davies, Vienna RSO, CPO 999882
The Fantastic (or Phantastical) 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, Günter Wand adds a touch of greatness to it in his 1953 recording, which, in good monaural sound with the Cologne Radio Symphony 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. Both recordings omit the 9th Appearance, which was apparently something of a tradition? The latest recording on Capriccio restores this inexplicable cut.
String Quintet (+ Adolf Busch, String Sextet), ARC Ensemble, RCA 764490
This is not to be missed by lovers of chamber music.
String Quartets 1 & 2, Auryn String Quartet, CPO 999406
The String Quartets, substantive works of somber beauty, have long been out of print but they, too, have come back, in these very fine performances which, shockingly, are the only ones there are on record.
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 OC 411
Family-friend 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.
Orchestral Songs, vol.1 (incl. Don Juan Variations op.34), Hansjörg Albrecht, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Genia Kühmeier, Camilla Nylund, Ricarda Merbeth, Oehms OC 1846
Orchestral Songs, vol.2, Hansjörg Albrecht, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Genia Kühmeier, Camilla Nylund, Ricarda Merbeth, Oehms OC 1847
These two recent additions to the Braunfels catalog are among the finest: The orchestral songs are luscious beauties, performed by top-notch vocalists that give themselves fully the cause and conducted by another splendid Braunfels-apostle, Hansjörg Albrecht (director of Munich’s Bach Chorus).