Carl Seemann The Orfeo Recordings Orfeo

Carl Seemann (piano)
The Orfeo Recordings
rec. 1952-79
Orfeo C260007 [7 CDs: 454]

It’s raining Seemann. No sooner do we have the big DG box with its 25 CDs and one Blu-ray disc containing all the Beethoven sonatas with Schneiderhan, than here is Orfeo with its slip-card reissue of its own live Seemann legacy, taped over a near quarter of a century between 1952 and 1979. It’s 40 years since his death in 1983.  

The first two discs contain the Bach Partitas and comes courtesy of Radio Bremen who recorded them over two days in June 1965. Uneven is the word, though I admit I’ve come to Seemann straight from duties auditioning Jörg Demus’s Westminster legacy. Where Demus was all naturalness, Seemann is less consistent. He can be metronomic in the First Partita though once he settles down he retrieves that element of subtlety that Demus always evinces. The Second Partita is more effective and fluent, the Third buoyant and stoic, the Fourth lively, the Fifth well characterised. 

The third disc sees Seemann and Schneiderhan playing a standard recital in 1964. The piano sound is very slightly watery and for that reason a performance in the Sendersaal in Bremen or the Herkukessaal in Munich rather than, as here, the Schloss Schwetzingen, would have been sonically superior.  Nevertheless, they begin with a Bach Sonata, the E major – very expressively contoured by both men in the Adagio – and play in robust style. They’d recorded the Beethoven sonata cycle in 1959 so were fully conversant with each other’s stylistic imperatives by now as they show in the assured reading of the Schubert Duo (note the violinist’s cleverly intensified vibrato speed in the Scherzo). The Mozart sonata is lithe and stylish. 

There are two Mozart Concertos in CD 4. For No.25 in C major, a work he’d recorded for DG with Fritz Lehmann in the 50s, he’s teamed with Wilfried Boettcher, who enjoys the grand seigneurial elements of the concerto rather too much, the opening movement stretching to over 16 minutes. The recorded quality in this 1979 broadcast is really first class but I find Seemann a finger-fluent but unassuming, sometimes strangely characterless pianist here and the finale limps along. Back to Edwin Fischer for me. The companion concerto is No.14 in E flat major, with Leopold Hager conducting the NDR Symphony. Though the recorded sound isn’t quite as good, the performance is rather better tempo-wise, but Seemann is a touch heavy and not exactly witty.

CD 5 houses Beethoven’s Second Concerto in an all-mono disc. The NDR Symphony Orchestra has the advantage of István Kertész as its conductor, a positive force in the B flat major, bringing forward the winds and encouraging Seemann to phrase with elegance albeit also with Seemann’s characteristic slightly reserved quality. The Sonata No.8, Op.14 No.1 comes from a concert the previous year in 1962 and is – as one might expect – direct, unassuming and a touch hard in the finale. The Bagatelles are fluently dispatched.    

The next disc replicates one of the limitations of a reissue programme such as this, which is presented under the name of a single artist; performances that don’t include the artist. A case in point is the disc dominated by cellist Enrico Mainardi. The first example sees him teamed with Carlo Zecchi in a 1956 recital from which is extracted Bach’s Viola da Gamba sonata in D major, BWV1028.  It’s always good to hear Zecchi, who plays excellently, whereas Mainardi, who is somewhat backward in the recorded balance, has problems of intonation. Seemann joins him in 1973 for Reger’s Fourth Cello Sonata by which time the cellist’s tone is dour – it’s not just the music – and limited in colour and nuance. Seemann tends to carry the cellist for stretches. Mainardi is at his best in the Adagio though again intonation worries stalk him; at least his chordal playing retains vestiges of his nobility. The disc finishes with a talk by the cellist, as he recollects meeting Reger in 1913. 

Seemann only appears in the final disc in Berg’s Chamber Concerto, a fine, committed performance with violinist Wolfgang Marschner and 13 players from the Bavarian Radio Symphony directed by Paul Hindemith in 1955, who also conducts his Symphony in B flat major in 1959; a gripping, taut, agitated reading, capricious and commanding with a splendidly realised fugal finale. The Four Temperaments comes from the same broadcast as the Berg but the pianist is Clara Haskil, not Seemann. She recorded it at around this time with Hans Otte and members of the Berlin Philharmonic so was temperamentally (as it were) suited to it. Timings are almost the same here as in her LP recording, as one might expect, and Haskil finds limpid expression as well as melancholy in this endlessly memorable work.   

These discs have all been released before and Orfeo has simply put the jewel cases into the slip-case. Space-savers would have preferred a more economical solution, I’m sure, but we have what we have. In addition to the original booklets there’s also a useful booklet devoted just to Seemann, in German and English.

There’s no question that Seemann was an important pianist on the post-war stage, though he tended to be overlooked for bigger names. His reticence could sometimes be held against him in solo recitals but in collaboration with, say, Schneiderhan his rhythmic resilience and musical virtues come richly to the fore. These Orfeo discs are uneven but at their best they are admirably direct and musically elevated. 

Jonathan Woolf 

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CD1 and 2
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV825-830
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. June 1965, Sendesaal Radio Bremen

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)    
Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 3 in E major, BWV1016
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12 No. 3
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Grand Duo for Violin and Piano in A Major, D574
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata No. 32 in B flat major, K454
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin)
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. June 1964, Schloss Schwetzingen

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Wilfried Boettcher
rec. December 1979, Hamburg
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K449
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Hager
rec. February 1972, Kiel
Carl Seemann (piano)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19
NDR Symphony Orchestra/István Kertész
rec. March 1963, Musikhalle Hamburg
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No. 1
rec. May 1962, NDR Studio, Hamburg
Six Bagatelles, Op. 126
rec. May 1952, SDR Studio VI
Carl Seemann (piano)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)    
Viola da Gamba Sonata No. 2 in D major, BWV1028
Enrico Mainardi (cello)
Carlo Zecchi (piano)
rec. March 1956, Bavarian Radio
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Cello Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.116
Talk: Enrico Mainardi on his memories of meeting Max Reger in 1913
Enrico Mainardi (cello)
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. March 1973, Austrian Radio, Landesstudio Salzburg

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) 
Symphony in B flat major
Theme and Variations: “The Four Temperaments”
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Chamber Concerto
Clara Haskil (piano): The Four Temperaments
Wolfgang Marschner (violin): Carl Seemann (piano)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paul Hindemith
rec. October 1959 and October 1955 (The Four Temperaments), Herkukessaal, Munich Residenz