Saturday, 25 November 2017

Gerhard Taschner - Part Two

A double CD pack from the French company Tahra brings us Taschner recordings from the period 1943-7, mostly in good sound and well transferred, although the Brahms sonata sounds a bit rough, with edgy violin tone in places. The recording of the Bach Chaconne made 23rd June 1943 in Berlin must have come from tape (radio broadcast) since there is no surface noise. A big sonic improvement over the 1941 version that was transferred from shellac disks. For my money, this is the best Bach chaconne in my entire collection. Three stars, no question; it was the piece that brought Taschner instant fame when he played it for Furtwängler in 1941. The Devil's Trills (27th March 1949) is up there in the top three or four, with superb trilling from Taschner. The 1943 Chaconne, along with the 1943 Zigeunerweisen, were among tapes captured by the Russians in 1945, and restored to Germany in March 1991. A little side-track of history.

Zigeunerweisen (Berlin, 4th December 1943) is as thrilling as ever with Taschner, but the vibrato in the slower passage still grates a little. Never mind; the left-hand pizzicato is still crisp and accurate. On 10th March 1947 in Berlin, Taschner and Walter Gieseking give a superb performance of César Franck's sonata; one of my three star choices. Taschner and Gieseking may be what the Americans, with their genius for marketing slogans, call a “dream team”. Anyway, the dream team goes on to play Brahms' third violin sonata (same date, and presumably same broadcast session, but sounding as if it comes from a different transfer source). The double CD pack ends with Taschner tackling Khatchaturian's violin concerto, with the Berlin Radio Orchestra conducted by Artur Rother. This is valuable for Taschner's remarkable violin playing, especially in the finale where the bow control is amazing. The slow movement lacks the intensity that Julian Sitkovetsky brought to the part (with Niyazi conducting), and the sound in general is not great; Khatchaturian needs colour, and the sound levels in this transfer (as maybe on the original tape) vary from time to time, with the violin sometimes close, sometimes too distant. Since the concerto was only completed in 1940, this 1947 performance must have been one of the first outside Russia.

For much of Taschner's earlier professional life in the 1930s and early 40s, performances of the Mendelssohn concerto would have been impossible. His 1953 performance with Fritz Lehmann has a freshness and a welcome absence of sentimentality. Tempi are brisk, technique and musicianship immaculate, and I liked it a lot. I thought I could never take even one more recording of this concerto, but I make an exception for Taschner's performance here. In the andante, taken as a true andante and not as an adagietto as so often, one notices that time and fashion have tamed Taschner's previously somewhat nervous vibrato. In the andante and finale, Taschner's timings at 7'41 and 6'09 are similar to those of Heifetz (7'07 and 5'57), though Heifetz is much faster than anybody in the first movement (11'00, versus 12'30 for Taschner). The Drabinghaus & Grimm transfer from the broadcast tapes gives a perfectly tolerable sound.

The sound in the Mendelssohn has Taschner balanced a little too far back, which is a shame since we buy these old recordings to listen to the violinist, not the orchestra – or even the concerto. In the Tchaikovsky concerto with Artur Rother conducting (1948) the violinist is balanced well forward, and we can admire the superb playing. For a 1948 live recording, the sound quality is astonishingly good. This MDG disc rounds off with an excellent transfer of Taschner's party piece, the Sarasate Zigeunerweisen recorded in 1943 with Michael Raucheisen at the piano. Incredible playing, but the vibrato of the 1940s still grates a little.

The Sibelius concerto dates from 1956 and the close up violin enables us to admire Taschner's peerless technique. The occasional minor fluff reminds us that pretty well all Taschner recordings are live and taken from broadcast tapes; no patching possible. Given the intensity of Taschner's playing, and his penchant for speedy tempi, it's a wonder there are not more fluffs. Taschner never plays it safe. The performance as a whole is one for lovers of violin playing, but is best avoided by lovers of the Sibelius violin concerto; there are too many odd changes of tempo in the first movement, and the orchestra (Cologne Radio Orchestra) often sounds all at sea. In the adagio di molto, we admire Taschner's ability to sustain a long melodic line, and we also notice that the nervous vibrato of 10-15 years before has now more or less vanished. In the finale, we admire the violinist's virtuosity and intensity; and no one plays fast passages faster than Gerhard Taschner !

This MDG disc continues with a second recording of the Khachaturian violin concerto (1955, with Schmidt-Isserstedt conducting the NDR orchestra). In the finale, we admire Taschner's superb sense of rhythm; in the andante sostenuto, his sense of the long line in the melody is superb. One feels Taschner is more at home in Khachaturian than in the concertos of Mozart (I know of no recording of Taschner playing anything by Mozart). All in all, however, I feel this performance lacks much of Taschner's much admired intensity, and parts of the work are a little too laid back for my liking. But perhaps, again, I am still bewitched by the performance by Julian Sitkovetsky, with Niyazi. This MDG CD ends with another Taschner party piece, Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy (1953, Fritz Lehmann and the Bamberger Symphoniker). Music that suits Taschner's virtuosity, sense of rhythm and sheer élan down to the ground.

Well, there are a few other Taschner recordings around: an EMI disc has the Bruch concerto, plus assorted concertos by Fortner, Pfizner and a Kammermusik by Hindemith. A Tahra CD has a few bits and pieces with piano not available elsewhere. But neither Tahra nor EMI exist any longer, so anyone wishing to investigate the recorded legacy of Gerhard Taschner has to seek out the CDs of Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG). Without MDG, Taschner would now be almost completely unknown. Thus the fickle nature of fame: it does not suffice to be a major virtuoso with an exceptional sense of musicality, of rhythm, and with fire and intensity. Without a good agent, an aggressive PR man and a solid home-team backing group, a name will fade into the history books. There are no violinists around today of the stature of Gerhard Taschner. All aspiring violinists would do well to listen to his recordings, alongside the recordings of Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz. I am extremely happy to have my little Taschner collection.

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