Agnes Giebel, soprano Marcel Cordes, baritone Paul Kuén, tenor Chorus of the Westdeustchen Rundfunk Chorus-master: Bernhard Zimmerman Cologne Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester
conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch Recorded in 1956 under the personal supervision of Carl Orff
Transfer from UK Columbia LP 33CX1480 in the Pristine Audio collection
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, May 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wolfgang Sawallisch
Regular readers of our weekly newsletter will know that Pristine recently took delivery of a large collection of classical vinyl discs, and over the last few weeks I've been sifting through them, pulling out interesting recordings and then checking for references to them on the Internet.
The Orff caught my eye thanks to the inclusion on the front cover, in bold capitals, of the line 'RECORDED UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF CARL ORFF'. Searching for references to this I ended up at a site which claims to be “the definitive web site” for this particular piece of music, and indeed, there's a reference to the Sawallisch recording right there.
More than that though, it reads (to me at least) as something of a challenge:
“There is a historical recording from the mid 1950's made in Orff's presence in which everybody puts in a lot of effort which is loudly applauded by Carl Orff himself on the last track but the quality of the recording means that we can't really evaluate it against later recordings.”
To be honest, having read that I thought I'd be in for something of a challenge, technically speaking, but no, this was a respectable recording for 1956; given that there is no applause present, at least on the British release (the site refers to a Capitol issue, which I assume is the US release though the site itself is based in Australia).
Anyway, having cleaned and transferred the LP I thought I might as well continue and see what a touch of XR remastering would do for it – generally the disc was in excellent condition, with only the odd click here and there needing my direct attention.
In fact the initial XR remastering was so successful that I decided to carry on with the recording and prepare it for full release. It is already available on CD elsewhere, and I have no idea whether the current issue is any improvement over the LP, but I'm more than pleased enough with how my own work has brought the very best out of this perhaps definitive (supervised by Carl Orff, remember!) performance, with frequency extension both at the bottom and top end of the range. Furthermore, where previously it was a little harsh and forward in the upper mid-range, there is now a much fuller and more convincing overall tonal balance.
Overall an excellent recording of this major work, with the Ambient Stereo version to be particularly recommended.
Sawallisch was born in Munich, and studied there privately for composition and pianoforte: at the conclusion of the war, in 1946 he continued his studies at the Munich High School for Music and passed his final examination for conducting. He began his career at the opera house in Augsburg in 1947. There he became first coach and later principal conductor: in 1952-53 he was personal assistant to Igor Markevitch at the International Summer Academy Mozarteum, Salzburg.
From 1960 to 1970 he was Principal Conductor of the Vienna Symphony. From 1971 to 1992, Sawallisch was Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera, and for several years from 1983, concurrently was the general manager of the company.
After his tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Sawallisch returned for guest-conducting appearances in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall. However, ill health related to orthostatic hypotension prevented Sawallisch from conducting in subsequent years. In an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer of August 27, 2006, Sawallisch himself stated his retirement from the concert podium:
"It can happen without announcement that my blood pressure is too low. This instability gives me the necessity to finish my career after 57 years of concert and opera conducting."
Sawallisch has also recorded, as piano accompanist, Franz Schubert's Die Winterreise and Robert Schumann's Liederkreis and other songs with Thomas Hampson. One of his most celebrated live concert appearances as a pianist was on 11 February 1994 in Philadelphia, when Sawallisch substituted for The Philadelphia Orchestra at an all-Wagner concert on the night that a severe snow storm prevented much of the orchestra from arriving at the Academy of Music.