Erich Bergel, Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra Johannes Brahms: The Four Symphonies (3CD)
The revelation in the fourth symphony probably surpasses all the beauty born of divine inspiration ever noted down by a Romantic composer.
Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Erich Bergel
About the album
Recorded at the S.M.E.I. Studio, Bucharest
Sound engineer: Calin Ioachimescu
Studio assistant: Ion Antica
Cover photo: Lenke Szilágyi
I inside cover photo: Dániel Németh
Design: Meral Yasar
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Currently out of stock.
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 73
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F major, op. 90
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98
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Known for self-criticism, Johannes Brahms wrestled with his first symphony for two decades before publicly joining the ranks of composers in the great traditions of Beethoven. Schumann's enthusiastic recommendation, his introduction of the young genius to the musical world as the future Messiah opened every door to Brahms, but it also demanded superhuman efforts on his part, imposing a severe burden on him for years.
The personality of Brahms the artist and the private person was equally contradictory: he was serious, formal, timid and reserved, but also congenial and serene, as open to the issues of politics and society as to those of the arts and the sciences. No other composer ever aspired to the totality of art at the time of change in style; in an interregnum, with such discipline as was typical of him: he combined the form-breaking subjectivism of Romanticism with the features of Classicism.
The intimacy of Brahms's chamber music and songs is present in his symphonies also, and despite the occasional monumental acoustic effects and extravagant dynamic outbursts, he always finds his way back to it. Extreme dramatic climaxes and tension consistently give way to simple and clear melodies rooted in the German folk song; the colourful performance of the various musical instruments, the frequent minor/major shifts reflect the alteration of light and shadow. Colour, however, is but the instrument, never the goal as in the case of Richard Strauss for instance, who was such a virtuoso mixer of colours that their appeal often exceeded that of melodiousness. Brahms subordinates the romantic colours of the orchestral sound effect to a noting technique modelled on the linear counterpoint of the Baroque.
Programme music as such is alien to Brahms, although the listener may read into the first movement of the first symphony certain conflicts reminiscent of Beethoven, and construe country scenes into the second symphony. His music is absolute in the pure sense of the word.
As it is well-known, the first movements of the symphonies are composed in the sonata form. However, the sonata - as in literature - represents a dramatic form, with conflicts coded in the opposing characters of themes identifiable with the actors. This is how the cardinal themes of the Brahms symphonies are to be interpreted.
The militant nature of the first movement of the first symphony is closely associated with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; the hymnic beauty of the closing movement recalls the finale in his Ninth Symphony, and the work subsequently closes triumphantly with a sweeping coda. The serene elements of the first movement of the second symphony counterbalance the dramatic parts, but the closing of the piece after the sweeping finale is none the less triumphant. As far as the two cardinal movements are concerned, one may probably regard the third symphony as most typical of Brahms. The lyric nature of the second theme of the first movement seems especially exciting and unique, while the finale's atmosphere is pierced by tense, dynamic outbursts and in the end, the work closes on a peaceful and harmonic note. Presumably, neither the composition nor the orchestration of the coda of this final movement ranks it among the most valuable pieces of the Brahms legacy. The absence of the overwhelming success unfortunately relegates this splendid work into background, at least in the case of those conductors who thrive on the frenzied ovation of the audience. One may recognise an infinitely concentrated sonata form in the first movement of the fourth symphony, whose second theme appears to reach back into the age of chivalry, and the movement reaches its climax with a steeply ascending coda. Brahms's progressive artistic maturity is revealed by the condensation of form in the closing movement of the fourth symphony: through the synthesis of the passacaglia and the ultimately condensed sonata form, he creates a superlative masterpiece whose extraordinary closure crowns the entire harvest of his symphonies.
In the middle movements of the symphonies, Brahms threads new paths, thereby opening up previously unknown dimensions. He has never in any place expressed the depths of his soul with similar extravagant richness. For the listener, this manifests itself in the beauty, clarity, fragile intimacy and noble sentiments of the slow movement, but Brahms nevertheless seems to maintain a certain reserve, as if hinting at a last, unsaid, word. The oboe part in the andante of the first symphony radiates peace of mind, and some suspect the melancholic violoncello theme of the adagio in the second symphony to be a gesture of leave-taking in the sense of Beethoven's sonata Les Adieux. The andante in the third symphony is dominated by an unearthly, timeless theme of suspended quietude, while the breath-taking beauty of the passage surfacing at about the end of the theme no doubt contributed to its being considered "typical" of Brahms. In the fourth symphony, the andante is introduced in the Phrygian mode, an allusion to the Middle Ages rhyming with the chivalrous theme of the first movement. The revelation in the second theme, however, probably surpasses all the beauty born of divine inspiration ever noted down by a Romantic composer. Here we stand on the threshold of consummation, and wish this feeling would accompany us forever.
With the movements of the third symphony Brahms leaves the direction marked out by Beethoven, returning to the relaxing function realised by the minuet in the cyclical works of Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven built up the scherzo from the innocent and serene beginning in the first symphony to the monumental movements of the seventh and the ninth symphonies, extending the three-part from into a five-part one and hence sending forward to each finale a heavy movement of symphonic texture. It was the decision of a genius to follow this by a dance-like, elated piece serving as closing movement in the seventh symphony and by a variation theme with soloists and a choir in the ninth in order to ensure the artistic balance of the cyclical form.
The continuation of this development in the spirit of the monumental scherzos of Bruckner could never have been the intention of Brahms, veering towards classicism. He inserted a serene, carefree allegro between the profound, emotionally charged opening movement, and the dramatic finale of his first symphony. The second symphony delights the listener with a pastoral of extraordinary appeal, graceful and perfect as a pearl, and the third with a violoncello theme of unique beauty, slightly melancholic in its folk-song-like purity, typical of Brahms. Finally, in one movement of the fourth symphony, this music of splendid momentum rattles and rumbles with such wild, demonic humour that we are made to think the big-bellied, bearded Brahms is shaking with laughter so hard that he's making the Earth itself tremble.
"Music is basically always a religious service. I thank God every day that he made me a musician."
Bergel's words could have been spoken by Johann Sebastian Bach.The similarity is not accidental: the Transylvanian Saxon musician is connected with invisible strings to the German organist-kapellmeister tradition that once gave the world the greatest genius in the history of music.
Bergel was born on 1st June 1930 in Rumania, in the Transylvanian village of Rozsnyó, and he spent the first four decades of his life there, in one of Europe's most complex ethnic regions. He received a dual heritage from the paternal home. On the one hand, the multi-national family, for his father was of Saxon origin and his mother descended from Spanish and Hungarian ancestors. On the other hand, his love for chamber music and the joy of playing music every day in the family circle (under the direction of his violinist father, he played music with his three sisters and brothers, and could play the violin, the flute and the piano from an early age). The organ and several brass wind instruments soon followed in the line of instruments to be discovered, and this exceptionally manifold musical career once again brings to mind the Golden Age of Bach. (He was able to make use of his excellent instrumental knowledge later, in orchestral work, and when, in the 1960's, he was barred for political reasons from conducting, he made a living playing the trumpet with the Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra.)
Between 1950 and 1955 he graduated from the College of Music in Cluj, specializing in conducting, composing and the organ. His years of studying only strengthened in him Bach's heritage, which was conveyed by Kurt Mild, a pupil of Günter Ramin and Fritz Heitman, the best representatives of the German organist school. Bergel's passionate interest in Bach's final monumental work, The Art of Fugue, dates from these years of study. After graduating in 1955, he worked as a musical director for four years in Nagyvárad, then from 1959 he became conductor of the Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra but he was arrested that same year, charged with "subversive activity against the state". His "crime", in the eyes of the Communist regime was that in his capacity of musical director, he regularly performed religious oratories and took part in several organ concerts. He was sentenced to seven years, and after spending three and a half years in prison and labour camp, he was given amnesty in 1962. For a while he couldn't use his conductor's baton, he slowly recovered from the physical and spiritual torments of his captivity with the help of yoga and the intensive study of Bach's The Art of Fugue.
Between 1965 and 1971 he was once again conductor of the Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra. With Herbert von Karajan's personal patronage he was finally able to leave Rumania in 1971 and his career as an international conductor evolved very fast. Karajan invited him as guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonics, and then from 1972 he taught at the Music Academy of Berlin.
In the course of his career as conductor he worked with 160 orchestras in 35 different countries, on every continent. Among others, he directed the Houston Symphonics, several orchestras of the BBC and the Flemish Radio's Orchestra (Brussels) for longer periods. From 1989 to 1994 he was the leading conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Society's Orchestra and a regular guest conductor of the Hungarian State Opera. He worked successfully in raising the artistic level of these renowned orchestras. His interpretations of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner raised the interest of the profession and the audience alike, critics saw in him the continuation of the great line of conductors, from Furtwangler to Karajan.
The passionate attention that Bergel gave Bach's mysterious opus ultimum for several decades resulted in two books (Die Kunst der Fuge, 1980, Bachs letzte Fuge, 1985; both were published by the Brockhaus printing house). These books are among the most significant musicological experiments endeavouring to interpret the chef d'oeuvre of Bach. Bergel contributed to the afterlife of The Art of Fugue not only with his scientific conclusions, but also as composer. He complemented the unfinished closing fugue of this monumental cycle. Karajan called it "a work of epochal significance" and one of the most noted Bach-scholars of this century, Friedrich Smend, said it was "a revolutionary insight into Bach's last work of art". Bergel did the instrumentation of the whole work and his variation is different from all the others in that the orchestra is treated in an untraditional, organ-like way.
The Bergel instrumentation bears the traits of the musician's most personal character: that inner flame which has made his famous interpretations legendary, that spiritual fire in which discipline and planning are combined with the magic of spontaneity.
There is a common faith at the base of Bergel's rich musical character: the conductor, the music scholar, the organist, the "musical preacher" and the teacher were all inspired by what he formulated with the most beautiful words: "Music is an invitation to the greatest joy and at the same time to the greatest solemnity. It teaches you both. I cannot think of a more complex pedagogy than music."
Zoltán Farkas (translated by Zsófia Molnár, Eszter Molnár)
Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra - Cluj
Cluj (Kolozsvár), the capital of Transylvania, a university town since 1723, is the cultural centre of north-western Rumania. The town boasts a renowned College of Music, two state opera houses, one Rumanian, the other Hungarian, and it was in addition to these that the State Philharmonic Orchestra was created in 1955.
The founder of the Orchestra, the excellent conductor and music teacher Antonin Ciolan, started his career at the Dresden State Opera after having finished his studies in Berlin in the twenties. A good patriot, he nevertheless returned to Jassy, the capital town of Moldavia, to transfer his knowledge acquired at the German centres of music to his own people. After the war, Antonin Ciolan worked as conductor and professor at Cluj until the end of his life; his school produced generations of musicians and conductors, the most renowned among them including Sergiu Celibidache and Erich Bergel.
The Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra soon became the leading symphony orchestra of Rumania, and it has preserved its rank despite the change in generation having taken place in it. They have toured most countries of Europe; participated, beside regular visits to the Bucharest Enescu Festival, at "musters" organized at the distant Luzern, Turin, Warsaw, Brussels, Berlin, Istambul, Strassbourg, Bratislava and Interlaken, and have been organizing their own festival at Cluj called Musical Autumn since 1965.
Since its foundation, the Orchestra has been directed by such conductors as Kurt Masur, Kiril Kondraschin, Sir John Pritchard and János Ferencsik; its pre-eminent guest soloists include Svjatoslav Richter, Ruggiero Ricci, Friedrich Gulda, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Bruno Gelber.
The repertory of the Transylvania Philharmonic Orchestra focuses on Classicism and Romanticism, but they have introduced numerous 20th century oeuvres as well, especially contemporary pieces of music. Its discography of seventy items is the largest among those of the Rumanian orchestras.
The four symphonies of Johannes Brahms were performed - with Erich Bergel - in 1994, manifesting both the rich traditions of Cluj musical life and the great artistic values of its orchestra.