Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt conducts Berwald

Some more music from the Northern countries on this lp conducted by German conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. Featured are the first and third symphonies of the rather enigmatic Franz Berwald. These recordings date from the mid 60's, I think, and were probably the earliest recordings of these symphonies by this pretty much overlooked composer.

Berwald's symphonies are among the most unusual works that I know. When you place them alongside contemporary works of Schumann and Mendelssohn, they stand out in a stunning way for their abrupt time changes and striking harmonies. I can imagine contemporaries of Berwald were probably left perplexed and shocked by what they heard since these works do not bear a logical progression from the models of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, at least that I can hear. It takes some getting used to but beauty can be found among the quirkiness and Berwald's talent was such that these are important documents on the musical highway.

The conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt is little known in the US as he apparently enjoyed his work in Germany and conducted rather infrequently beyond the West German and Austrian borders. He's an important figure in German orchestral traditions since he was one of the conductors who was picked out to rebuild orchestral life in Germany after the second world war. In Schmidt-Isserstedt's case, his contribution was the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (NDR) in Hamburg, which along with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich, was considered as the finest of the radio orchestras in West Germany. Among Schmidt-Isserstedt's recorded achievements is a Beethoven 9th from Vienna, which many collectors consider one of the very best ever.