Carl Schuricht was clearly one of the great masters of the podium, though his legacy remains underappreciated -- in part because he recorded less frequently than many of his contemporaries (e.g., Toscanini, Furtwängler, Böhm, Klemperer, Walter), and in part because his conductorial persona was more introverted than theirs. Schuricht never courted or cultivated cult status; his podium manners were as gentlemanly and undemonstrative as his interpretations are direct and unfussy. In general he favored brisk tempos, clearly articulated rhythmic patterns, finely shaped but never overinflected phrasing, and judicious orchestral balances (even in the biggest Brucknerian climaxes the brass are never allowed to blare).
Speaking of Bruckner, Schuricht is generally acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of that composer, and these EMI recordings of the third, eighth and ninth symphonies with the VPO (then as now one of the very greatest Bruckner orchestras) amply supports that assessment. Schuricht's commercial recording of the third has not been readily available since the LP era (though there was a CD reissue on a minor label a number of years ago). It is a splendid interpretation: the opening conveys just the right atmosphere of mystery, of exalted expectation, and as the first movement proceeds, each climax is perfectly placed and graded. The architecture emerges more clearly than in most other versions I have heard. The raptures of the slow movement, on the other hand, are not overplayed; there is a discretion and a naturalness to Schuricht's exposition that completely avoids schmaltz (sometimes a risk when Brucknerian lyricism is overplayed); the relatively flowing tempo helps him in this regard. The scherzo is incisive, dramatic, but also playful as it should be. Since this is the 1889-90 text, the finale is severely truncated; but Schuricht manages to make the movement seem unified, expansive and a satisfying culmination to the work, avoiding any abruptness. And that great polka-chorale episode has never been so perfectly articulated or balanced (in my listening experience, anyway). The Eighth and Ninth share similar virtues. These are better-known recordings, having been reissued at least once before by EMI, and critics have usually responded favorably to them. Some listeners may find Schuricht's Ninth somewhat wanting in fervor; the great dissonant climaxes (such as the one occurring just before the coda of the third movement) are not as shattering as they can be with other conductors (Schuricht will seem downright tame when compared with Furtwängler or even Jochum). But this relative gentleness fits well within Schuricht's general conception of the work, which is more lyrical and open-hearted, even optimistic, than one usually hears. There can be no such reservations about Schuricht's Eighth, however. In this work the conductor gives a perfectly balanced exposition of the Nowak edition -- neither the agony nor the ecstasy allowed to dominate. To be sure the first movement broods effectively, the scherzo sweeps along rambustiously, the adagio carries the listener forward on a tide -- but not a tsunami -- of exaltation, and the finale is a cogent symphonic argument, not just a relentless juggernaut.
Altogether, a feast for Brucknerians, especially for those who are eager to hear a kinder, gentler approach to their favored composer.
As if this were not sufficient, we are also given a remarkable Beethoven cycle with a vintage French orchestra, captured while its distinctive, francophone timbres were still in full cry. Schuricht's approach to Beethoven is mobile, light-textured, sometimes hard-hitting, and rhythmically snappy at fairly brisk tempos. One is reminded most of Leibowitz and Ansermet in this composer, and not at all of Schuricht's German compatriots. If you resist ponderous Beethoven, but find Toscanini too harried and hectic, then Schuricht's cycle is for you. Yes, those francophone horns do sound disconcertingly like saxophones, and the trio of the Eroica's third movement adds unintentional hilarity to its athleticism as a result. But how often does one get to hear such characterful wind playing these days? As with any Beethoven cycle, there are strengths and weaknesses: the Ninth doesn't storm the heavens as much as I would like, and other conductors have given us more radiant accounts of no. 4 and the *Pastoral*. However, I regard Schuricht's *Eroica* as one of the very greatest on record (despite those vibrato-laden horns); nos. 2, 5 and 8 are not far behind: strong, trenchant, yet beautifully nuanced performances that will recall Weingartner to some listeners.
A Beethoven cycle to cherish, then.
As indicated, EMI has handled the remasterings particularly well; I don't recall that previous incarnations of the Bruckner 8 and 9 or the Beethoven cycle sounded quite this good. The packaging is what one has come to expect for EMI's Icon series -- a nice, sturdy slimline box, with a booklet, detailed track listings, and annotations that include a judicious appreciation of Schuricht's artistry.
If you haven't yet discovered that distinctive artistry, then here is a golden opportunity at a very affordable price!