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Obituary: Conductor Franz-Paul Decker (1923-2014)

May 22, 2014

Naxos is sad to record the passing of Franz-Paul Decker, the German-born conductor and renowned exponent of the Austro-German repertoire, who died peacefully on Monday, 19 May, aged 90. Although he left behind only a small number of recordings, two of them, dating from the mid-1990s, were made for Naxos.

After studying conducting, composition and pedagogy at the Cologne Conservatory with Philip Jarnach and Ernst Papst, Franz-Paul Decker was engaged as assistant conductor at the Giessen Municipal Theatre. Having worked there from 1944 to 1946, he then spent four years as chief conductor at Krefeld until 1950, when he was appointed chief conductor of the Wiesbaden Opera. He succeeded Carl Schuricht as conductor of the Wiesbaden Symphony Orchestra in 1953 and held the position of chief conductor at Bochum between 1956 and 1964; during this period he conducted the opening concert of the Brussels Exhibition in 1958. In 1962 Decker was appointed chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he held for six years. This was followed by a similar position with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (1967–1975), after which he served as artistic adviser and principal guest conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (1975–1977).

Remaining in Canada, Decker became professor-in-residence at the Sir George Williams University, Montreal; he conducted the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Opéra de Québec and was principal guest conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra from 1991 to 1999. In addition, he toured extensively, conducting throughout Europe (including England with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), the former USSR, and the USA; he also established a thirty-year relationship with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, of which he became the conductor laureate. During the 1990s he conducted two different, complete cycles at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires: firstly, the symphonies of Mahler and, from 1995 to 1998, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Decker was most at home in the traditional Austro-German repertoire, and was particularly praised for his readings of the symphonies of Bruckner. He was also a noted interpreter of the orchestral music of Richard Strauss. In his uncomplicated musical vision he recalled the great Kapellmeister tradition of previous generations. Despite his extensive international career, his discography remained small. Two of his most significant early recordings were of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’ with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon), and of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, in which he accompanied Bruno-Leonardo Gelber with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (EMI). More recently he recorded two CDs devoted to major German repertoire with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for Naxos: Reger’s Mozart and Hiller Variations [8.553079], and Hindemith’s Symphony, Mathis der Maler, Nobilissima Visione, and Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Weber [8.553078]. Music & Arts issued a recording of Decker accompanying Wilhelm Kempff in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.


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