Various Artists

German Composers Conduct

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Dutton's German Composers Conduct is an interesting cross section of German music making from between the wars, taken from recordings spanning the period 1926-1942. The main draw of this disc is the 1938 recording of Eduard Künneke conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in his own 1929 Tänzerische Suite, a completely charming set of dances for jazz band and orchestra that draws equally from continental jazz and Viennese operetta, with a few surprises thrown in to boot. Dutton's transfer of this work is excellent overall, though it could have used a little more presence in the bass range. Franz Schreker's Kleine Suite, likewise a work from 1929 but recorded earlier in 1931, is included in Symposium's three-disc retrospective of Schreker's recordings. Dutton's transfer is a tad less noisy than Symposium's, brighter though not as well rounded; it also has a hint of reverberation that this modest chamber orchestra piece really doesn't need. Max von Schillings' 1929 interpretation of two orchestral pieces from his 1915 opera Mona Lisa are handled with delicacy by Dutton's engineers, but the problem lies with the interpretations themselves; Schillings seems to be on autopilot, and that what sparkles in this music in modern recordings comes across here as dim and drab. Siegfried Wagner's 1926 recording of his father's "Prelude and Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde has been reissued numerous times and should be familiar to most dyed-in-the-wool Wagnerians; the transfer here is not at all noisy, but it is also a little dim and muddy.

The oddest and most obscure selection on Dutton's German Composers Conduct is that of Werner Egk leading the Paris Opera Orchestra in excerpts from his ballet Joan von Zarissa. The notoriety and fame of the 1937 Entartete Kunst exhibition in Munich has led many to believe that National Socialists had an opposition to modern art. This is not entirely true; while they were opposed to modern art that they found "degenerate" -- and that was at best a subjective judgment with no clear policy in back of it -- the Nazis were nevertheless interested in modern art that was acceptable to their standards. Although not so beholden to the status quo that he didn't challenge it at all, Werner Egk was a modern composer whose work the Nazis found favor with. Even listening to it without the benefit of knowing what it is, Joan von Zarissa is emotionally and morally bankrupt music with moments of overeager ingratiation and false exoticism. Dutton gets a beautiful transfer out of this source, but the music is only marginally interesting at best.

Nevertheless, the Künneke is a major, and early, European crossover effort, and its renewed availability constitutes an important restoration to the growing body of historical recordings in that area of study on CD. For that reason, Dutton's German Composers Conduct is easy to recommend to listeners who maintain a "warts and all" interest in music of this era and its personalities.

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