All things come to an end. That includes boozing, shagging and bootleg tapes of Hans Knappertsbusch. Yes, much to the relief of the local wowsers, the Melbourne International Festival of Kna is finally winding down. Last night was our final event - the Kna lookalike contest. Mirroring the Hemingway contest in Key West, we were inundated by any number of Kna lookalikes; the main prerequisites seemed to be (a) wear a cowboy hat (b) smoke incessantly (c) utter bon mots (d) be surly in general and (e) imprecate and mock Herbert von Karajan in equal measure. Having pale blue eyes went down well with the judges (the musicologists from downtown Saigon). Everyone is flying out today with plenty of memories and souvenirs (speaking of which, those poor buggers who contracted `red spots on the undercarriage' should visit the clinic when they reach home).
The last recording to be considered is Kna's 1954 account of Bruckner's Romantic Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic. With the exception of a major infelicity at 8'58" in the first movement, it is better played than the 1944 (Berlin Philharmonic) and 1964 (Vienna) alternatives; unlike these other instances, the horn-players do not fail him here. As per usual, a Schalk edition is in play (the number of cymbal crashes seem to be multiplying in the finale). The mono sound is not without detail or ambience but it is never a good sign when double-negatives are in play. This recording will never win an audiophile award: it's wanting in amplitude. Testament has maximised its baseline.
Kna never dawdles as a Brucknerian. As a sucker for slow Bruckner Fourths, I am starting to wonder whether that ultimately counts against him in the Romantic, particularly in the first movement. To my taste, Kna is a tad brisk even if his mastery is never in doubt (the central episode of 6'33" - 11'28" works perfectly well even if pomp and circumstance are more in play than mysticism). While different editions apply, Kna surveys the first movement in 17'59" where as Celibidache takes 22'42" in his live performance from Vienna: this is an abyss. As per usual in this stupendous work, Kna is at his best in the slow movement which is unerringly paced and climaxed. The Scherzo is delightful, being bucolic and rambunctious in turns (I am not sure what in the hell Schalk did at 4'31" but it is not ineffective in any way).
If, Bruckner-wise, there is a Knights of the Round Table, Kna sits in a pride of place and more so for his magellanic traversals of the Third, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies than his surveys of the Fourth and Fifth. This Testament disc is a worthwhile acquisition but I prefer the wartime performance of the Romantic with the Berlin Philharmonic from October 1944 (Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E flat, "Romantic") where a longing for majesty and transfiguration are the order of the day.
Until next year, provided the authorities do not shut us down!