Hans Rosbaud

Haydn: Symphony No. 82; Mozart: Symphony No. 39, No. 41; Mahler: Symphony No. 7

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Haydn: Symphony No. 82; Mozart: Symphony No. 39, No. 41; Mahler: Symphony No. 7 Review

by C. Ryan Hill

Hans Rosbaud is sadly a conductor who has been all but forgotten except to a small handful of enthusiasts. Despite his relative obscurity to the masses, he was an extremely influential figure during the middle of the twentieth century. A dedicated intellectual with a strongly multi-disciplinary education, he gave the premiere of both Schoenberg's Moses und Aron and Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 2, the latter of which featured the composer at the piano. In fact, it was only Rosbaud's untimely death at age 67 that precluded him from taking Fritz Reiner's post as the music director of the Chicago Symphony. His legacy lives on today through the many he influenced, perhaps most importantly Pierre Boulez, whose own Mahler Seventh recording was released on Deutsche Grammophon.

These recordings, though, do not do Rosbaud's legacy much justice. There is a hard, cold, bitter edge to the sound throughout the two-disc set. The phrasing, especially in the Haydn, seems choppy and angular. Rosbaud seems at his best only in the finale, where he finally gives the music the playful character for which it asks.

Rosbaud's legacy is unfortunately a bit unkempt; due to his career with radio symphony orchestras, he largely stayed away from the recording booth. The overall sound throughout is nothing short of dismal, though, and this is troublesome for the Mahler especially. The recording of Mozart Symphony No. 39 must count as one of the first that actually uses cut time in the opening introduction (although Mozart was frequently ignored by the weightier romantic traditions of Rosbaud's time). This is indeed very nice to hear on a performance that is not of the so-called "authentic instrument" variety. As was customary, there is frequent use of portamento in the strings between shifts, creating an interesting blend of new and old elements. Clearly, Rosbaud is a thoughtful conductor and did not let tradition dictate his decisions, much like his follower Boulez. This alone deserves attention.

Mahler's Seventh Symphony rounds out the second disc, and it is regrettably difficult to see the appeal here. The sound suffers from the same problems already mentioned above, with significantly worse effect since the Mahler requires such a large canvas of sonic color. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra is not nearly as effective here as the rival Bavarian Radio Symphony, which is featured in the classical works. The tenor horn solo in particular sounds strained, and in general the players don't seem to be able to meet the technical demands of their parts. Although unfortunate, it seems that at least as far as these recordings are concerned, the many conducting gifts that Rosbaud possessed will not be aurally tangible. Not recommended unless you are historically interested, and even then with some reserve.

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