Here's an unusual, and not very marketable, pairing of two conductors. The Brahms Tragic Over. and Max Reger's Hiller Variations - one of the few orchestral pieces that this post-Brahmsian conservative once survived by - are conducted by Carl Shcuricht from a January, 1964 concert with the London Sym.; the aged Schuricht was 84 at the time. The orchestration of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge is under Adrian Boult with the Philhamronia (briefly rechristened the New Philharmonia) in August, 1968, when he was 79. So it's two old masters giving their late thoughts on the Austro-German tradition. With all due respect, one wonders sadly if anyone is really interested?
Schuricht belongs in a class of thoroughly assured German traditionalists like Joseph Keilberth (who unfortunately did not survive past sixty), not to be classed among the greats but capable of very fine performances. This Tragic Over. isn't remarkable but is so confident and echt-Brahmsian that one would be hard-pressed to find its equal today. There's not enough drive or intensity to make it truly memorable, however. Better is the Reger (he was Schuricht's teacher), a work rarely played today that is reminiscent in its high spirits of the youthful Brahms's two Serenades, not a bad recommendation. An astute online reviewer points to a resemblance with Weinberger's 'Schwanda the Bagpiper,' once a staple of classical pops concerts. There are eleven variations with a big (9 min.!) fugue to cap the proceedings, and Schuricht so believes in this music that he imparts a good deal of vibrancy to it. A score that could come off as more Teutonic than jolly is quite rollicking, even if the overlong fugue almost deflates the souffle.
The fugal form is the rationale, no doubt, for including the Grosse fuge, but I've never really bought the various orchestral transcriptions, because this grueling finale to Beethoven's Quartet Op. 133 is so demanding that four string players are hard-pressed to keep it sounding coherent, in tune, and even playable. It is one of Beethoven's most peculiar and in its way awe-inspiring creations. Perhaps for reasons of scale his titanic conception needs to break the bounds of chamber music, yet hearing an entire string orchestra attempt the nearly impossible has its own hazards. the issue is moot given that Boult's reading comes in remote Albert Hall sound that is also muffled. Bernstein's DG reading is more intense, yet in a way Boult's relatively relaxed, no-pressure approach is easier to absorb - if only it sounded better.
As a memento of a lost age of conducting this odd CD is welcome. I enjoyed every performance, especially the Reger.