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KARL RISTENPART

Although born in Germany, Karl Ristenpart spent much of his early childhood in Chile, where his father was director of the Santiago astronomical observatory. Following his father’s death, in 1913 he and his mother returned to Germany, where they came into contact with Hermann Scherchen. Scherchen became music teacher to Ristenpart’s mother, and she in turn financed his first Berlin concerts; eventually they married and it was Scherchen who was the key influence in Ristenpart’s decision to become a musician. After studying at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin and in Vienna he returned to Berlin to become conductor of the Berlin Oratorio Choir; he also conducted the Berlin Radio Orchestra and in 1932 formed the Berlin Chamber Orchestra. The rise of the Nazi party put a temporary halt to Ristenpart’s career: his refusal to join the party meant he was prevented from gaining a permanent appointment with any German orchestra, and in addition was eventually forced to disband the Berlin Chamber Orchestra. However, following the end of World War II he was invited in 1946 to form a chamber orchestra and choir by the Radio in the American Sector of Berlin (RIAS), remaining with RIAS until 1953 when he moved to Saarbrücken, where for Saarland Radio he founded the Saar Chamber Orchestra, the forerunner of the Saar Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Ristenpart and the Saar Radio Chamber Orchestra, as it was also called, moved to European prominence through their recordings for the French record clubs Discophiles Françaises and the Club Français du Disque (CFD). The latter had an artistic policy of publishing unusual repertoire, and a number of its recordings were licensed to other European record clubs such as the Bertelsmann Schallplattenring in Germany and The Record Society in the United Kingdom. However Ristenpart’s international fame was really established when CFD’s recordings were licensed for issue in America by the Nonesuch label, one of the pioneers of stereo budget releases in the USA. The combination of their low price, unusual (for the period) repertoire, and bright, attractive sleeve designs stimulated good sales; with the result that shortly before his death Ristenpart, who became highly admired in America, was recording specifically for Nonesuch and its associated label, Checkmate. However, the introduction of the CD in 1983 and the absorption of CFD’s recordings into the ownership of other companies resulted in the disappearance of most of his recordings, a process that was accelerated and reinforced by the rise of the period performance movement during the 1980s and 1990s, which covered much of the same repertoire on disc as that recorded by Ristenpart.

Nonetheless Ristenpart’s recordings contain musicianship of a high order. Outstanding are his recordings of the music of J. S. Bach: these included the complete Brandenburg Concertos, the four suites for orchestra, Die Kunst der Fuge and the concertos for single and multiple harpsichords, as well as the Magnificat and numerous individual cantatas. The range of Ristenpart’s recordings of lesser-known Baroque music was immense, and included for instance trumpet and oboe concertos by Telemann, violin and wind concertos by Vivaldi, and music composed by Karl Stamitz of the Mannheim School and by the sons of J. S. Bach. Ristenpart’s conducting of the music of Haydn and Mozart was especially stylish, as was demonstrated by his recordings of the trio of Haydn Symphonies Nos 6 ‘Morning’, 7 ‘Noon’ and 8 ‘Evening’ and his Symphony No. 48 ‘Maria Theresa’; the large-scale Serenade in D ‘Colloredo’ by Mozart, and his Mass in C ‘Coronation’. Ristenpart’s last recordings, made with the Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra, included Schubert’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 and Brahms’s Serenade No. 2, works in which his light but stylish musical touch was very much to the fore.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).

Role: Conductor 
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