C0880. WILLEM MENGELBERG Cond. Radio-Paris Orch.: Anacreon – Overture (Cherubini); Symphony in d (Franck); w.Paul Tortelier: Cello Concerto in b (Dvorák). (France) 2-Malibran 188, Live Performance, 16 Jan., 1944, Théâtre des Champs Élysées. - 7600003771889
“Four years ago a pile of Second World War Pyral discs turned up mysteriously in a junk shop in Lyons. They came from the archive of the notorious Nazi-controlled Radio Paris. The premises of Radio Paris had been torched during the liberation of the city and no one knows how these discs had escaped the conflagration or why they had turned up in Lyons more than 60 years later.
In remarkably vivid sound the discs preserve two concerts that had been broadcast live from the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in January 1944. The concerts were free and ordinary Parisians mingled with members of the German Wehrmacht in their grey-green uniforms. What is evident in these recordings is the heightened response to music in wartime and the palpably shared emotion of musicians and audience, of oppressed and oppressors. The musicians of the Grand Orchestre de Radio had been picked from the other Paris orchestras and were the best that France had to offer. The conductor was the Dutch Willem Mengelberg – a revered musical figure before the war but later tainted by accusations of collaboration with the Nazis. He would conduct for the last time six months later (Beethoven's Ninth Symphony) in the same theatre with the allied armies already hurtling across Normandy on their way to Paris.
- Patrick Bade, THE INDEPENDENT, 24 April, 2012
“Willem Mengelberg, like Henry J. Wood, spent half a century with an institution classifiable as a national monument: from 1895 to 1945 he was music director of...the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Like Arthur Nikisch he was an early example of the commuting conductor and regularly departed Holland 1907 to 1920 for concerts in Frankfurt.
Mengelberg remained in Europe after 1930, recording for Columbia until the Depression cut into recording budgets, then for the German firm Telefunken. With the coming of the war Mengelberg accepted the Nazis…to conduct and record – meanwhile saving at least sixteen Jewish members of his orchestra and…defying the ban on playing Mahler.
Dr. Berta Geissmar, Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Jewish secretary, has written in TWO WORLDS OF MUSIC about the kindnesses extended by Mengelberg on her Amsterdam visits in the late Thirties, and there are other examples of his natural non-partisan good-heartedness. Politics bored Mengelberg….He lived, in a sense, on his own special island, a monarch among invaders as well as a prince among friends….his soul was drenched in music. With virtually every performance he was living in the music’s lining and hurling himself at the barricades of interpretation....It’s not surprising that Otto Klemperer, rejected by the Third Reich, conducted a memorial concert for Mengelberg in Amsterdam shortly after his death.
Perhaps a clue to Mengelberg’s wartime indiscretions, sinful and virtuous, may be found in a character summation supplied by one of the wisest ever of conductors’ wives, Doris Monteux. As she writes in IT’S ALL IN THE MUSIC, Mengelberg was ‘one of the most fascinating personalities I ever met; he was at the same time kind and generous, unkind and small, bombastic yet gentle, childishly naïve, foolishly proud and pompous yet ridden with a feeling of unworthiness, religious yet at times positively hedonistic. Truly a more complex character never lived’.”
- Arthur Bloomfield, MORE THAN THE NOTES