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Jens F. Laurson
WETA 90.9 FM Blog, December 2010

Klaus Amadeus Hartmann is one of the great composers of the 20th century; among those composers who were hampered in his career first by the Nazi takeover and then by the severe post-war avant-garde aesthetic, he was probably the most successful…probably in good part because he was wise enough to fully embrace the ‘new’ music. Not in his own musical language, but administratively by founding the Music Viva series in Munich which was and likely still is one of the most important (German) contemporary music institutions.

“Simplicissimus” (subtitled “Developmental pictures from a German destiny according to H.J.Chr. Grimmelshausen”, with a libretto by Hermann Scherchen and the composer) was written between 1934 and 36 (“an homage to Prokofiev”) and then extensively revised in 1955/56, now dedicated to Carl Orff. It is the original version of the opera that is performed on this recording, but considerably edited and amalgamated for radio broadcasting by composer Wilfried Hiller. Unconnected scenes guide us from Simplicissimus the naïve youth to the wizened fool, shaped by living through the 30 Years War.

The result is a fantastic and uncomfortable, intriguing-compelling 90-minute opera. I don’t enjoy the spoken chorus that follows the overture (pointing to the fact that Germany’s population was decimated by three quarters between 1618 and 1648) but that’s due to the funny pronunciation of “DEUTSCH-land” (German)…the rest is Hartmann’s angular and organic language that someone who thinks highly of Stravinsky’s “Rake’s Progress” and “Histoire du soldat”, or Britten’s operas would have an easy time loving. It helps having two of Germany’s best baritone complement the cast around Camilla Nylund and Will Hartmann; the live recording of the ‘little’ Radio Orchestra in Munich (also part of the Bavarian Broadcasting but not to be mistaken with the flagship BRSO) under Ulf Schirmer is first rate.

John Alison
BBC Music Magazine, June 2010


Better known by its, well, simpler title of Simplicius Simplicissimus, Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s only major opera gets its fuller name here to distinguish the edition used for this recording, made live in Munich in 2005. This hybrid version is the work of the composers Wilfried Hiller and Robert Klimesch, who go back in part to Hartmann’s first conception of the opera. Composed 134–36, Simplicius was not premiered until 1948 (and revised in the 1950s), for reasons that are obvious. Hartmann was an anti-fascist who went into ‘inner emigration’ under the Nazis, and his subject matter here signified a rejection of Nazi dogma. The story, based on Grimmelshausen’s romance and set during the Thirty Years War, tells of the adventures of a carefree shepherd boy who becomes a visionary anti-hero.

This edition sounds taut and pungent under Ulf Schirmer’s baton. Camilla Nylund sings gleamingly as the idealist Simplicius, and there are incisive yet pliable performances from the three excellent male soloists, Christian Gerhaher, Will Hartmann and Michael Volle. A half-hour ‘bonus’ track features discussion (in German) about the work.

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, March 2010

the music is attractive; it’s worth hearing, and is given a good performance. You can get a sense of what’s going on through the music, which is a compliment to Hartmann.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Stephen Eddins, February 2010

Karl Amadeus Hartmann created several versions of his only full-length opera, Simplicius Simplicissimus, making it difficult for scholars and performers to establish a definitive version of the score. This recording, taken from a 2005 performance at Munich’s Prinzregentheater, is based on a reconstruction of Hartmann’s original 1936 version made by Wilfried Hiller and Robert Klimesch. Some of their choices seem odd; they include the 10-minute Prokofievian overture Hartmann added in 1939, which has little to do with the piece as a whole, but they omit the musically ravishing and dramatically critical Interlude the composer added at the same time. They also use the Hartmann’s original spartan orchestration and restore some spoken dialogue. The work sidesteps many of the conventions of opera, and resembles Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat musically and formally, but it also includes operatic singing. It would be easy to enumerate the influences audible in the score—which include most obviously Stravinsky, Hindemith, Weill, Orff, and Schoenberg—but Hartmann’s visionary synthesis is individual and effective, and he doesn’t sound quite like anyone else. The opera, set during the Thirty Years’ War, is a transparent critique of the Third Reich, so it’s no wonder that it was not produced until after the war. The performance reveals it to be a work, that despite its quirkiness, has a raw power musically and dramatically. Ulf Schirmer offers strong leadership of Münchner Rundfundorchester and Die Singphoniker, turning in a committed and virtuosic performance that makes a good case for the opera. As the child Simplicius, soprano Camilla Nylund fully inhabits the role, and sings with strength and warmth. Will Hartmann is a vigorously forceful Hermit, but tends to sound strained in the upper register. Baritone Christian Gerhaher sings powerfully as the Mercenary. The sound of the live recording is clear and present. The album includes an interview, in German, with editor Wilfried Hiller and conductor Schirmer, and archival taped comments by the composer and his wife.

Dominic McHugh, August 2009

Hot on the heels of the launch of the Mariinsky Theatre’s new CD label a couple of months ago the Bayerishe Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio) is launching its own label, devoted to making the performances of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks more widely available. Though the label’s product has stiff competition from many of the leading international symphony orchestras, a striking majority of which now have their own record labels, BR-Klassik stands out for its excellent sound quality, resulting from the orchestra already being set up to record for the radio.

There’s no sense, then, of this being an orchestra going it alone in the unknown waters of the record market, or of trying to contend with a difficult acoustic in the way that LSO Live does with the Barbican. Instead, these CDs almost uniformly have the fine-tuning and detail of the studio. And of course, that’s also because the orchestra is of such a high standard, currently benefiting from the artistic vision of its chief conductor Mariss Jansons. Jansons appears on four of the nine releases, two of which document the same Haydn performance, one on CD and one on DVD.

As it happens, that’s the finest of the performances on offer here: truly compelling, it combines musicality and heart in equal measure. Two symphonic performances begin the concert: the brief Symphony in D major, Hob. 1a:7, ‘Overtura’, created in 1777 as an opera overture, and the longer Symphony in G major, Hob. 1:88, which followed on from the Paris symphonies in 1787 by wearing its roots in French dance forms on its sleeve. Jansons’ way of making the ultra-romantic Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra create a lucidity of texture is splendid in both these works, but it’s the performance of the Harmoniemesse, Hob. XXII:14, with a secure quartet of soloists and the Choir of the Bavarian Radio, that makes the CD and DVD (the latter directed by the inimitable Brian Large) unmissable. [403571900102]

Both orchestra and conductor are on home territory with the other two releases. First is Mahler’s Seventh Symphony [403571900101], often an enigmatic and difficult work in my experience… The BRSO plays beautifully and the final apotheosis is breathtaking…Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony [403571900100]…is marvellously played from start to finish. Jansons’ interpretation is clean and fresh, taking us on a rollercoaster adventure and revealing all kinds of small details whilst maintaining momentum. Like the Haydn, it’s highly attractive.

Another aspect to the new label is BR-Klassik Archive, for which (unsurprisingly) the extensive Bavarian Radio archives have been mined for great performances of the past. The first batch of releases contains just a single disc from this series, consisting of two concerto performances from legendary pianist Marta Argerich [403571900701]. It’s worth the cover price for her visceral rendition of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto in C, in which her full-on approach to articulation markings makes one hear the piece anew, even if Seiji Ozawa’s conducting is extremely subservient to Argerich rather than interpreting the piano as part of the full orchestral texture. I was less struck by Argerich’s way with Mozart’s Eighteenth Piano Concerto—less insightful and thoughtful in delivery—but the Beethoven makes up for everything.

I’m sad not to have been able to make more of the next release, which comes under the series title BR-Klassik Wissen. This two-disc set is an exploration of Bach’s St Matthew Passion [403571900900] by Wieland Schmid, with excellent performances from the orchestra and choir under Peter Dijkstra. It looks fascinating and could be the start of an important series, but since my German isn’t up to scratch, I confess I got little out of it (there’s no English translation).

Three discs of twentieth-century music wind up the first batch of releases. Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti [403571900300] is given an emotive performance by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester under Ulf Schirmer and benefits from idiomatic singing from Rod Gilfry as Sam and Kim Criswell as Dinah, the latter especially sympathetic. Tahiti is Bernstein’s first opera, and was composed in 1952 when he was at the height of his powers on Broadway. Though only a one-act work, it’s vastly underrated, especially from the point of view of instrumental invention, and this recording—which is coupled with the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, virtuosically but perhaps a little too teutonically played—is a great way to discover the piece.

Schirmer also leads the complete performance (on two CDs) of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Des Simplicius Simplicissimus Jugend (Simplicius Simplicissimus’s Youth) [403571900301]. This complicated music drama was written during 1934-6 but wasn’t given its premiere until 1948—on Radio München. It was altered in 1955-6 and was given in Munich in 2005 in a conflated version, which is recorded here. It’s a fascinating if sometimes impenetrable piece, which benefits from a beautifully-recorded performance. Finally, Peter Dijkstra leads the Choir of the Bavarian Radio in three small-scale religious works: Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, Kodály’s Missa brevis and Poulenc’s Litanies à la Vierge Noire [403571900500]. These are haunting works, even if they don’t set the pulses racing quite as Bruckner’s Seventh or Haydn’s Harmoniemesse do; impeccable performances are found throughout, however.

Lavishly packaged and with short, if sometimes eccentrically-translated, liner notes, BR-Klassik’s new releases provide something for everyone, and are an optimistic sign for the future of the recording industry.

BR-Klassik Catalogue

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