C1834. EUGEN SZENKÁR Cond. RTF S.O., Düsseldorf, w.Clara Ebers, Nan Merriman, Helmut Krebs & Otto von Rohr: 'Choral' Symphony #9 in d (Beethoven). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1051, Live Performance, 3 June, 1958, Théâtre National de Chaillot, Paris. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"Eugen Szenkár (1891-1977) was a Hungarian conductor who made his career largely in Germany during the mid 20th century. He began his musical studies under his father who was a well regarded organist, choral director, and composer in Budapest. At age 16, the young Eugen met Gustav Mahler - a formative experience that not only inspired him to take up the baton, but also fomented a life long love of Mahler's music. Like most German conductors of the era, he began his career as an opera house repetiteur - the Budapest Volksoper in Szenkár's case.
In 1918, Szenkár met Artur Nikisch in Dresden when the latter was engaged to conduct a series of concerts for the city's Staatskapelle Orchestra. Nikisch took the young man under his wing and recommended him for the position of music director of the Frankfurt Opera. After winning this important position, Szenkár began receiving national attention and was even mooted as an outside possibility to follow Nikisch at the Berlin Philharmonic when the great conductor had died. In 1927, he assumed the leadership of the Cologne Opera where he won wide acclaim as a champion of contemporary music. In Cologne Szenkar would conduct the German premieres of Bartok's WOODEN PRINCE and DUKE BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE, Kodaly's HARY JANOS and Prokofieff's LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES. A devout Mahlerian, he performed a cycle of the symphonies in Cologne and programmed them often ever after, winning the International Gustav Mahler Society's medal in 1957 for all his work.
After the Nazis were swept into rule in 1933, Szenkár fled to the USSR where he continued to promote modern music. While in the Soviet Union, he premiered Khachaturian's Symphony #1, Miaskovsky's Symphony #16, and Prokofieff's PETER AND THE WOLF. Unfortunately he arrived in the Soviet Union in the wake of the LADY MACBETH debacle, so he prudently decided to leave for calmer shores.
The late 1930s and early 1940s saw Szenkár eking out an itinerant existence guest conducting far and wide including the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, but finally found a permanent position with the Rio de Janeiro Symphony Orchestra. It was while in Rio that Szenkár befriended Toscanini while the latter was touring South America with his NBC Symphony Orchestra. Toscanini thought highly enough of Szenkár to invite him to guest conduct the NBC for some of that orchestra's concerts during their tour. In 1947, Toscanini again invited Szenkár to conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra, this time in New York. Szenkár conducted a pair of programs that included works by Schumann, Berlioz, and Wagner. Recordings were made of these broadcasts and have fortunately been preserved. In 1950, Szenkár returned to Germany where he became the music director of the Düsseldorf Opera. He remained there until his retirement in 1961 and would die there in 1977.
Szenkár's style can be described as having the denseness and weight of early to mid-1950s Klemperer, the virility of Fricsay, and the frenetic intensity of de Sabata and Mitropoulos. But these comparisons aren't quite precise; he has a very personal sense of style. Szenkár was a giant and it is to our detriment that he apparently had a disdain for recordings. He cut a few records in Germany before the war and there are some air checks available from after the war. And somewhere out there those NBC broadcasts are floating around. A man of Szenkár's genius definitely deserves better than what he has received so far. I hope those Hamburgers sitting in the audience for this concert realized just how lucky they were.
- Problembär, 2 Nov., 2009