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Otto Ackermann studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Bucharest and at the High School for Music in Berlin. A natural musician, by the age of fifteen he was conducting a tour of the Royal Romanian Opera. Three years later, in 1927, he was appointed to the post of conductor at the Düsseldorf Opera. He remained there until 1932, when he moved to Brno in Czechoslovakia to take up a similar position. From 1935 to 1947 he was the musical director at the municipal theatre of Berne in Switzerland. After World War II he held two significant appointments, partly in parallel: first, that of conductor at the Vienna State Opera, from 1947 to 1952, and second, that of general music director at the Zürich Opera, from 1949 to 1955. This was followed by a return to Germany as general music director at the Cologne Opera, from 1955 to 1958. Subsequently he returned to his old post at Zürich. Throughout the post-war period he appeared in many of Europe’s major opera houses as a distinguished guest. He died in 1960.

Otto Ackermann was an extremely gifted natural musician, who could produce musically satisfying results in whatever repertoire he turned his hand to. His recording career, which was extensive, was dominated by collaboration with two major labels: the Concert Hall Record Society (La Guilde Internationale du Disque) and the Columbia branch of EMI. For the former he recorded an extensive catalogue of orchestral works. This included items from the major symphonic repertoire, such as Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos 5 and 7, Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, all in highly idiomatic readings with the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra. Also of note were his recordings of the symphonies of Mozart. Extensively distributed throughout northern Europe, these recordings slipped from the general catalogue with the advent of stereophonic sound from 1958 onwards.

Ackermann’s involvement with the Columbia label has more successfully stood the test of time. He was engaged by Walter Legge, head of Artists and Repertoire for the label, to conduct a series of recordings of complete operettas featuring the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Legge cast these recordings from strength. With Ackermann conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and excellent studio recorded sound, these works emerged as the masterpieces they undoubtedly are. Of particular appeal are the recordings of the operettas of Lehár, in which Ackermann’s mastery of rubato yields maximum dividends from the music. Ackermann’s other notable partnership with Schwarzkopf, a recording of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, coupled with the closing scene from Capriccio, was also recorded in mono and was superseded by the soprano’s later, stereo, recording with George Szell. Yet the earlier performances remain superlative accounts of these two masterpieces from Strauss’s final, glorious, flowering as a composer. Legge also employed Ackermann as an accompanist in several concerto recordings, with soloists of the calibre of Anda, Kogan, Moiseiwitsch and Solomon. His most famous and enduring recording is the recital of soprano arias from the gold and silver ages of operetta sung by Schwarzkopf, in which he conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra with great style. Recorded in stereophonic sound, this has maintained a popular place in the catalogue for many years.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Conductor 
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