Zum Konzert am 3. September 1968 in Edinburgh
Daily Mail, Edinburgh, 4. September 1968
Unfinished? Yes - but top of the pops!
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra: Usher Hall
Ask anybody - just anybody, not necessarily someone ‘musical’ - to name one composition by Schubert, and they will almost certainly say: ‘Ah yes, the Unfinished Symphony ‘.
Incomplete it may be, a mere two movements, but it has long been among the tops of the symphonic pops and certainly n e v e r to be omitted from a Festival focused upon Schubert’s music.
And when love is lavished upon it in the manner of last night’s performance by Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Orchestra, it shows up right from the start of that opening tune that everyone can hum to be the masterpiece it is.
I doubt if similar familiar affection will ever be the lot of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Gesangsszene (song scene) which was also, because of the composer’s death in 1963, left unfinished.
It is scored for baritone voice and a large orchestra liberally weighted with percussion-glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, with celeste, harp and piano - and it is full of clever ideas.
But good though it was to have the splendid voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau holding its own against such an accompaniment, one’s appreciation was blunted by lack of full understanding of the words.
The printed programme - strangely u n h e l p f u l by Festival programme notes standards - was content to tell us that the text ‘goes on to present a whole series of images, often in flowery German that does not translate well or purposefully into English.’
It was possible, however, to hear that it had something to do with Sodom and Gomorrha and the end sounded aptly catastrophic. But am I to assume that all those in the crowded hall who applauded so heartily were not hypocrites but people with fluent German?
Zeitung und Datum unbekannt
Fischer-Dieskau’s phenomenal singing
At the concert in the Usher Hall last night by the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio one of the few pieces unknown to a British audience and included in the Festival was given.
It was Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s "Gesangsszene" for baritone and large orchestra. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the soloist and Rafael Kubelik conducted.
Like Schubert’s Eighth Symphony, which opened the concert, "Gesangsszene" is an unfinished work.
Hartmann, having suffered several bouts of illness, became mortally ill during 1963 while working on the score, which breaks of at a point at which the voice is obviously about to re-enter for a climactic section.
How much more the composer would have written it is impossible to say, but there are only a few lines of the text left unset. He may, however, have intended to balance the lengthy instrumental introduction with a coda of similar proportions.
There may well be sketches existing for the remainder of the work, in which case it might well be completed by another hand.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau spoke the unset lines after the music had finished, and the manner in which he did so suggested that he knew how the piece was to have continued.
"Gesangsszene" is an extremely impressive composition of great vitality. It is a setting of a German translation of the prologue to Jean Giraudoux’s play "Sodome et Gomorrhe".
After a light-hearted beginning a whole series of images in two contrasting groups are presented. They give much scope to a musician.
On paper the voice looks as though it would have difficulty in penetrating some of the more complex textures, but last night’s performance showed this not to be so.
Hartmann’s writing for the orchestra is subtle and perfectly calculated, and Fischer-Dieskau’s powerful, but never forced, singing soared above the mass of instruments.
This was a phenomenal performance, even by his own unique standards. The variety of meaning in his inflexions and contrast of tone made it unnecessary for the listener to worry about the exact meaning of the text. The musical experience was self-sufficient.
For this achievement the conductor and the orchestra also deserve their full share of the credit. It was a deft and dynamic interpretation, and the playing of each section was as assured as it was evocative. The first flautist, who has two substantial cadenza-like passages, in particular distinguished himself.
The Scotsman, Edinburgh, Datum unbekannt
‚Song scene’ of grim fervour
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra: Usher Hall
The chance to hear his (Anm.: Karl Amadeus Hartmanns) "Gesangsszene" sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in last night’s concert by the Bavarians was […] welcome. Left unfinished at the time of his death, it is nevertheless as "complete" a work as Schubert’s unfinished symphony - complete, that is, in that whatever Hartmann might have added to it had he lived, he could scarcely have created a more impressive ending for the piece than the one it inadvertently has, with the orchestra breaking off in the middle of a powerful crescendo and the singer poignantly speaking the final lines about the fate of civilisation.
Inspired by the prologue to Giraudoux’s play "Sodom and Gomorrah", Hartmann’s "song scene" is a disturbing work, sombre in its intensity, deeply and often angrily pessimistic in its treatment of Giraudoux’s lines about Man’s destiny. The orchestration is heavy, yet its stress and strain is generally reduced during the vocal passages so that the singer can make himself heard, and elsewhere in the work there are phrases of softly melancholy beauty, such as the lonely introductory bars for solo flute, that return in a different form at the height of the ensuing drama. The percussion section, too, is used expressively, with a dark jangly eloquence.
Mr Fischer-Dieskau (the sustained excellence of whose singing has been one of the special pleasures of this year’s Festival) brought a rich sense of drama to the eventful vocal line, catching its full power and bitterness and riding where necessary even the orchestra’s most shattering outbursts with magnificently assertive yet always rounded tone. Under Rafael Kubelik, the players responded with the right sort of grim fervour.