The Saturday Review
24 November, 1956

by Irving Kolodin
Thanks to Dr. Gaël Rouillé

"IT IS NOT often that a worldfamous orchestra comes to New York for the first time with a seventy-six-year-old conductor who is more a subject of curiosity than the orchestra itself. Such was the case, however, with the long-awaited appearance of the Vienna Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall with Carl Schuricht leading a program of Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner. So long awaited was it, indeed, that Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Clemens Kraus, and Erich Kleiber - who were named for one or another tour in the last four years - have all died. If the opportunity came to Schuricht by default, he honored it with musicianship of a high order and a wonderful rapport with the unique orchestra.
Of course, it is a bolstering compliment to be affiliated with the Vienna Philharmonic at all under such circumstances, for it is the membership which engages the conductor. That it had made no error for sentimentality or other reasons was apparent from the start with a sensitive yet robust performance of a symphony written by Mozart at sixteen, yet already number twenty-three (D major, K. 181) in his catalogue. The velvety sheen of the strings, the plaintive interpolation of the oboe, the subdued accompaniment which the ensemble provided when a solo instrument was dominant were all in the noble tradition of an orchestra whose refinement of style is unparalleled. It was, of course, Schuricht who held it together and gave the eminently aware players the direction they required.
In scope and spaciousness, the following "Egmont" overture of Beethoven has not had such a performance in Carnegie Hall since the last occasion when Arturo Toscanini performed it. For one thing, the Vienna Philharmonic's string section runs to sixteen firsts plus three concertmasters, and they all play. Taking in the proportionate complement of seconds, violas, cellos, and basses, there was a veritable forest of bows at work on the stage, all functioning toward that ideal of luscious, deep-throbbing string sound that is the singular property of this ensemble. The clamorous horns and sighing woodwinds were marshalled by Schuricht's exact, economic beat to a climax steeped in traditionalism but vibrantly alive. As the final chord reverberated in Carnegie Hall, one realized anew what a precious frame this makes for a really worthwhile picture.

BRUCKNER'S Seventh Symphony (relatively terse, at an hour plus, as this composer's works go) is not ordinarily what this ear wants, but what the Vienna Philharmonic players made of it under Schuricht's knowing direction gave all ears a cleansing bath of pure, ringing sound. There is no such thing as forcing or overblowing. The strings, in the most urgent forte, bow but do not press; the brass, consequently, can form their sound with every prospect of being heard at a natural level, likewise the woodwinds. There are few details of an orchestra's ability that such a work does not reveal, and the Vienna Philharmonic responded magnificently. Of course, a missed horn note or a wrong trumpet entrance is not unknown with these players, and there were such incidents (also a timpani player who lost a mallet head in the frenzied whacking of the final chord). They were about as important as a dent in the nose of the Statue of Liberty. The symbol was there for all to see, and what it symbolized was the eloquence and power of music itself.
I, frankly, would not have endured the terminal interminabilities of Bruckner had the thought not persisted that there might be an encore, and it could be, it might be, it definitely was "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" (composer name of Strauss). The overflow audience greeted the introductory phrases with shouts and bravos (many of them tinged with a Viennese accent) and then relaxed in happy silence as the orchestra swung into that repertory of which it is king and court alike. We have all heard it on records and some of us have heard it in person, but it was not quite the as hearing in Carnegie Hall, amid the outposts of our asphalt jungle, the wooing strains of an art all geniality, refinement, and spirit. It seemed modest of the men to use music and turn pages in a piece they have imbibed with their mother's milk, but they did. And Schuricht used a properly amended manner to accord with the circumstances. Fine man, Schuricht. He should come soon again. Superb orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. It should play in New York more times than the one date at the end of its tour, December 8. The wise will require no more words."

Irving Kolodin

GO BACK TO the concert reports