C1451. HANS KNAPPERTSBUSCH Cond. Vienna Phil.: Coriolan - Overture; Symphony #7 in A; w.WILHELM BACKHAUS: Piano Concerto #4 in G - Live Performance, 17 Jan., 1954; Eroica Symphony #3 in E-flat - Broadcast Performance, 17 Feb., 1962 (all Beethoven). (Austria) 2-Orfeo C901 162. Specially priced. - 4011790901220
“Hans Knappertsbuschs’ approach to Beethoven is a special case within the ‘special case’ that was Knappertsbusch himself. In his finest moments, his high degree of unpredictability (something which marks him out as the complete opposite of his great colleague and competitor Karajan) affords his interpretations a sense of ‘recreating’ the music in the truest sense of the word, making it sound as if it is being played for the first-ever time. And this is probably why the music in these moments sounds so powerful, refreshing and liberating, far removed from any kind of comfortable listening conventions. Today, in retrospect, it also sounds free of any new-fangled fashions or constraints. Expressive details are always granted the time they need, as is the overall context. We never come across a tempo that is too fast, however historically well-founded it might have been. Nor is there any sense of ‘titanic’ expression (whatever that is supposed to be). And in the process, however different in character his various performances of a single work might be, the whole work always comes across as balanced and coherent in itself on a higher level.
On this new double CD we can hear both a complete concert given in the Musikverein in Vienna on 17 January 1954 – with the Coriolanus Overture, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Seventh Symphony – and the Third Symphony from a concert at the same venue, given on 17 February 1962. In the unheroic G-major Piano Concerto, Knappertsbusch’s partner is his contemporary Backhaus, who was famous for his Beethoven, but who at the same time possessed an individual ‘objectivity’ and a legendary virtuosity that doubly refutes the clichés about ‘typically German’ musicians. In this context, the commentator Gottfried Kraus recalls visiting Backhaus’ apartment in Salzburg where the pianist spoke of his lifelong struggle to play the problematic lyrical chords at the opening of this Concerto. In the third movement, we are also wrenched from our customary listening habits by an unknown cadenza – and then cast back, bewildered, onto the well-known, yet seemingly new paths of the Concerto once again.”
“Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned and beloved conductors of the German Romantic repertoire in the middle twentieth century. Although he grew up playing and loving music, his parents objected to the notion of a musical career. Thus Knappertsbusch studied philosophy at Bonn University. In 1908, however, he entered the Cologne Conservatory and took conducting courses with Fritz Steinbach.
Knappertsbusch began his career as a staff conductor at the Mülheim-Ruhr Theater (1910-1912) and then as opera director in his home town of Elberfeld. Equally important to his development were his forays into the temple of Wagnerism. He spent several summers as an assistant to director Siegfried Wagner and conductor Hans Richter at the Bayreuth Festival and took part in the Netherlands Wagner Festivals in 1913 and 1914. After the end of World War I Knappertsbusch worked in Dessau and Leipzig, and in 1922 he was asked to succeed Bruno Walter as music director of the Munich Opera.
Knappertsbusch's personality was easygoing; he was notably free of the restlessness and undue ambition that often attended a rising career such as his. He was content mainly to stay in Munich, with the result that he never became as well-known as many of his colleagues. In any case, Munich fully appreciated Knappertsbusch's talents, and he was named conductor for life. However, he refused several demands made by the Nazis and was fired from his lifetime post in 1936. He conducted a memorable SALOME in Covent Garden in 1936 and 1937, and made some guest appearances elsewhere in Germany, but was content to maintain a low profile during the Nazi regime. He left Germany after the Munich debacle, settling in Vienna where he frequently conducted the Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. Knappertsbusch's career was again affected by the Nazis when Germany took over Austria over in 1938, but he was mostly able to steer clear of trouble.
Knappertsbusch gained a reputation for broad, magisteral performances of Bruckner, and more and more seemed to emerge as the representative of the traditional style of unhurried Wagner performances. He was famous for disliking rehearsals, often cutting them short; his orchestral players maintained that this was not the result of laziness, but of complete security in his interpretation and trust of the players. His performances were therefore not rigidly preconceived, but instead had a remarkable freshness and spontaneity.
When the Bayreuth Festival reopened in 1951, Knappertsbusch worked closely with Wieland Wagner on orchestral matters (though the conductor was known to dislike the director's spare, revolutionary stage productions). Perhaps Knappertsbusch's most notable recording is his stereo account of Wagner's PARSIFAL from the Bayreuth stage.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
"…someone so well versed in the music, so utterly familiar with even the tiniest twist or turn in line or harmony, [Backhaus’] playing sounds like an extension of natural speaking."
- Rob Cowan, GRAMOPHONE, June, 2006
“Wilhelm Backhaus made a concert début in Leipzig at the age of eight, and studied at the Leipzig Conservatory with Reckendorf. In 1899 he left Leipzig to study with Eugène d'Albert in Frankfurt am Main. He made a major début tour in 1900 and quickly gained a fine reputation as a player and as a teacher. His American début was on 5 January, 1912, in New York, playing the Beethoven Piano ‘Emperor’ Concerto with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra. In 1930 he moved to Lugano and acquired Swiss citizenship. Backhaus established a teaching career there and continued to make concert tours throughout his long life. His last U.S. appearance was in New York in 1962, at age 78; reviews judged that his powers were undiminished. He died on 5 July, 1969, in Villach, Austria, where he had gone to make a concert appearance.
Especially during the later phase of his career he had a remarkably high reputation as a pianist whose devotion to the composer's intentions was total and unselfish. His performances were in the classic line of those that strove to present the music in one broadly viewed arc of concept and logic, embracing not just single movements but entire works. His recorded output ranges from Mozart through the main Classical and Romantic repertoire. It is not surprising that his work was particularly excellent when he encountered those composers who built large-scale, logically constructed classical works, such as Beethoven and Brahms; in reference to his recordings of such works, terms like ‘magisterial’, ‘exemplary’, and ‘direct’ have often been employed by reviewers. Late in his life he came to be regarded as a Beethoven specialist, and he recorded virtually the entire corpus of keyboard works of that master, as well as extensive groups of Brahms and Mozart, and works by Schumann, Grieg, Chopin, and Liszt, including concerti and solo works. He also made some chamber music recordings, notably of Brahms' cello sonatas with Pierre Fournier, and a notable account of the Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com