(This article cited here-Auditorio Nacional)
I have never forgotten the advice that Louis Krasner gave me about concerto playing. There is an astounding recording of a performance that he gave of ‘his’ piece, the Berg Violin Concerto. This was recorded in 1936, with the BBC Symphony orchestra. They were conducted by Anton von Webern, and this was to be the only time that he conducted the piece in a concert. He had been scheduled to conduct the première in Barcelona earlier that year. Krasner had traveled to Spain with him on the train. But the rehearsals had foundered under the strain of Webern’s intense neurosing over details, and after a few days, he had fled. The Bavarian conductor Hermann Scherchen, succeeded in preparing this difficult piece in under two hours rehearsal. The first performance was given to the accompaniment of a distant artillery barrage. The Spanish civil war had begun.
However, the prospect of Webern conducting his late colleague’s last piece, his instrumental requiem, was too great an opportunity to let go. Berg had died whilst writing the piece in 1935, from an abcess caused by an allergic reaction to a bee sting in his spine. The BBC Symphony orchestra prepared extensively in advance of the fussy conductors arrival in London. By the time he stepped on to the podium for the first of multiple rehearsals, most of his extremely detailed demands had been met already. The resulting performance and the recording, is one of the most emotionally shattering and technically assured versions of any work ever committed to disc. Interestingly, the BBC threw the master tape of this concert away, and it was only by chance that a second, privately owned recording of it was discovered, in miraculously perfect condition in an attic, in 1987.
Krasner said to me:
“You know, there was really nothing that I could add to what Webern had to say about Berg’s music. I knew that this was a never-to-be-repeated opportunity. So, as the concerto began, I moved slightly back from the microphone so that I was standing almost directly in front of Webern, so that I could see his every move. I let him conduct the concerto, every note of it. So it is his performance, not mine. It was almost as if he was praying over the music.”
Louis Krasner made it crystal clear to me that music’s ability to transcend the limitations or time, was not a matter of belief but fact. He was talking about the Chorale ess ist genug,which is not by, but arranged by Bach, which came into Berg’s hands late in the process of writing the violin concerto, which he himself had commissioned.
In Krasner’s eyes, it was a supreme irrelevance which piece had come first, the Bach, or the Berg; in his way of seeing it, they had both come into being at the same ‘time’, in communion with each other.
“Bach wrote (this chorale) so that Berg could find it, and Berg wrote his concerto so that Bach could write his chorale. If you don’t know this, then please leave now.”
(Conversation with Peter Sheppard Skaerved Boston 1989)