Bruckner - Symphony no.5
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Cat No: SBT1502
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 2nd February 2015
ArtistsLondon Symphony Orchestra
In Georg’s early years in Vienna, Bruckner had been performed every week or two, but when he arrived in England in 1938 he discovered to his horror that Bruckner was practically unknown, regarded, in the words of the musicologist Cecil Grey, as a ‘continental aberration’. When he arrived in New Zealand there was not only no Bruckner but no professional orchestras except for Broadcasting’s small studio ensembles of indifferent quality. In Australia he found matters hardly better; although the country was better stocked with orchestras, there had only been two or three performances of Bruckner symphonies, and none at all before 1945. Therefore Georg set about promoting Bruckner with missionary zeal, lecturing about him at every opportunity, importing or writing out orchestral or vocal parts and seizing every opportunity to perform him with mostly amateur and youth groups – and very limited opportunities they were: at the age of 52, at the time of the BBC recording, he had performed only the Mass in F minor and the Fourth and Seventh symphonies. Not only was the BBC broadcast his first performance of the Fifth Symphony, surprisingly it was also the LSO’s first performance of the original version of the work, though it was then almost a hundred years old; hitherto they had played only the cut and reorchestrated (what Georg called ‘bowdlerised’) version by Franz Schalk.
‘I personally had the great fortune,’ Georg wrote, ‘as a member of the Vienna Boys Choir, to be often conducted by one of the chief perpetrators of [such] distortions, and I would be the last to deny that Franz Schalk was a great conductor. But he was a child of his time – and did not Gustav Mahler, who as a composer was far ahead of his time, start [Schumann’s] Manfred Overture with a cymbal stroke in order to show the audience where the beat was? An act of utter barbarity. So Schalk, who acted entirely from love and adoration for his master, did similar things to the Bruckner scores… It is quite likely that Bruckner gave his permission when other people Wagnerised, cut, and distorted his works. Knowing his desperate desire to get his works performed, and also knowing his ridiculous inferiority complex which made him think that everybody of these mediocre but talented friends and advisers knew better than he did, it doesn’t impress me at all that he signed some of these concoctions and gave his probably very unwilling permission for their performance… I do not doubt for one moment that Franz and his brother Josef Schalk (and quite a few others) acted with the best of intentions, and thought to do their beloved master a great service. That proves only that with all their brilliance they were children of their time, and also that their limitless adoration for Wagner rejected anything that didn’t sound like the Bayreuth master.’
Georg turned up at the first rehearsal on his bicycle, dressed casually in baggy shorts. One of the players told him the musicians would roast him – Georg remarked later that had he been more inexperienced the remark would have terrified him – but at the end of the recording they gave him an ovation. He never heard the results, however. Despite receiving a sensational review from Peter Heyworth the following March for his conducting of Die Zauberflöte, by the time the programme was broadcast in June, Georg had given up hoping for a British career and, saying ‘nothing moved in England’, had departed for Perth to be music director of the semi-professional West Australian Opera Company.
© Tanya Tintner, 2014
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