BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 3 in E Flat, Op. 55 (rec. June 19, 1943).  DVORÁK:  Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World" (rec. July 14, 1944).  BRUCKNER:  Symphony No. 4 in E Flat "Romantic" (rec. June 30, 1943).
Munich Philharmonic Orch/Oswald Kabasta, cond.
UPC/EAN: 017685107221
MUSIC & ARTS  CD 1072 (2 CDs) (F) (ADD)  TT:  72:20 & 70:29

Born December 29, 1896, in Mistelbach, Austria, Oswald Kabasta joined the Nazi party early on, and after the Anschluss signed all of his correspondence "Heil Hitler!"  Before then, he'd been music director from 1926 to 1930 at Graz (Karl B�hm's hometown), until his appointment as music director and chief conductor of the Austrian Radio. In 1934 he became principal conductor of the Vienna Symphony, and one year later of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Although Bruckner was his specialty, he conducted a wide range of contemporary music, including the first performances of Franz Schmidt's Fourth Symphony (dedicated to him, in 1934) and The Book of the Seven Seals (in 1938). As late as 1943, despite an official proscription of Bartók's music, he prepared and presented Music for String Instruments, Percussion and Celesta.

I first heard of Kabasta ca. 1951 from Vittorio Giannini, whose Verdi-scale Messa da Requiem the conductor premiered at Vienna in March 1937, with the composer's sister Dusolina as soprano soloist. Neither pushover nor sycophant, Giannini spoke in warmest terms of Kabasta's musicianship and technical expertise. But politics were never mentioned in our talks. Kabasta was appointed music director of the Münchner Philharmoniker in January 1938, succeeding Sigmund von Hausegger (also pro-Nazi but not a party recruit; he was smart, like B�hm, who used to brag backstage at the Met of his friendship with "Adolf," and visits to Berchtesgaden).

Kabasta remained the Munich orchestra's Dirigent until public performances were suspended in 1944, in the wake of ruinous Allied bombing raids—punishment no doubt for the city's having been the birthplace of the Nazi party. When music resumed in 1945, Hans Rosbaud was invited to rebuild the Philharmonic. An Allied Occupation tribunal reduced Kabasta's status to common laborer. On February 6, 1946, ill and broken, he committed suicide.

The 1943-44 performances on these two discs come from German Radio archives. In a generous program book, Mark Kluge's annotation considerably clarifies Kabasta's interpolation of certain 1889 materials in what is otherwise Robert Haas' 1936 critical edition of the Bruckner Fourth Symphony, broadcast on June 30, 1943.

By that time, however, the war had surely left its mark on the orchestra—one surmises that some of the players may have been killed or injured in the bombings, and several younger ones recruited for military service. How the Philharmoniker sounds today under James Levine's stewardship has yet to be documented on discs, but under Rudolf Kempe and Sergiu Celibidache it was never better than so-so by world-class standards. (For that matter, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra didn't really shape up until Lorin Maazel got to Munich, despite the prior tenures of Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelik, and Sir Colin Davis.)

To my ears, the best performance here is the Eroica of June 19, 1943—the kind I would have expected from Giannini's memories of Kabasta. There have been probably two or three dozen just as distinctive in Schwann/Opus over the years. All of us have our favorites and mine don't belong here; this is about Kabasta's Eroica, which is more cleanly and pointedly played than Bruckner, broadcast just two weeks later. For a preferable Munich performance of pre-Haas materials in the Bruckner Fourth, you'll want to hunt down Furtw�ngler and the touring Vienna Phil on a superbudget Virtuoso CD, from a broadcast of October 10, 1951 (but nary a word of annotation or documentation).

Dvorák's From the New World , which M&A continues to list both on the back cover and in the program book as "Symphony No. 5 (9)," is vivid and volatile without displacing the competition—surely as many different versions as Kabasta's Eroica must contend with. Interestingly, it once was issued on two Cheapo LP labels as a performance by Furtw�ngler and the Berlin Phil. This wrong attribution went unchallenged until careful and scholarly listeners determined that it was really Kabasta's of July 14, 1944—less than three weeks before his final concert, ever, with the Münchner Philharmoniker.

An issue, I'd say, basically for librarians and archivists.