Commenter Tristan reminded me of a proposal I had made many moons ago about a series dedicated to those recordings that stand so far above the competition as to render the very notion of a competition moot (the inspiration for his comment being, if memory serves, the Bernstein/Chicago Shostakovich 7. We’ll definitely be covering that one at some point). I like the idea a lot in that I brought it up two years ago, and I thank Tristan for whipping me into enough of a frenzy to do something about it. With that in mind, let’s begin with a name that anyone who’s spent any length of time reading this blog will know is near and dear to me: Otmar Suitner.
My opinion of Suitner is obviously higher than most, but I don’t think it’s without merit. The range of his repertoire is rather fascinating. While he certainly did not possess the breadth of orchestral rep that his more famous contemporaries did, he has some truly exemplary interpretations across a pretty wide swath of styles. His Mozart is extraordinary, as is his Dvorak. His Bruckner is superb, and so is his Schubert. Sure, it’s largely the Austro-German stuff, but what else would you expect from a dude working in East Berlin (though he did work in West Berlin too…and had wives on both sides of the wall, but that’s another story for another day)? The common theme among most of his greatest recordings is the “seriousness” of the works: Mahler, Bruckner, Brahms, Dvorak, Schumann, Schubert, Mozart, Strauss, Stravinsky, Hindemith, et al. All the more interesting, then, that the recording of his that I would select as an “Undisputed Champ” is a 45-minute disc of shit that would unironically be called “Light Classics” on a Reader’s Digest LP from the 1960’s.
Franz von Suppe composed around 30 operettas and some other random shit, and it doesn’t appear that a single one of them has managed to survive in the collective consciousness. The overtures, though? They turned out just fucking fine, thank you. The most famous are the Light Cavalry and Poet and Peasant, both of which are staples of the rep. Slightly lesser known are the other works on this disc, but they’re no less fun and exciting (in fact, as I mentioned here, at least one of them is palpably more exciting). So why is a CD of early Romantic overtures perfect for Looney Tunes with an orchestra from the Commie side of Germany so great?
I think the answer lies in the “seriousness” that I associate with Suitner’s finest recordings. His readings are all killer no filler (Sum 41…anybody? Anybody?), straightforward, controlled, focused, precise, and committed to the score in a way that people claim Toscanini is (spoiler alert: he isn’t). Those are all qualities that you would never associate with performances of fun music like Suppe, but that’s what you get with this disc: fun music performed in a serious manner. There’s no bullshit fucking around with the tempi or outsized effects, just a God damn clinic in energy and rhythm and color. The Staatskapelle Dresden play like Gods, unleashing holy terror on several occasions, and the percussion in particular are on fire throughout.
The entire album can be listened to on Spotify for those who have it (Franz von Suppé – Von Suppé: Overtures) and it’s available on iTunes and Amazon and all the usual places. Take a listen and hear for yourself. If your loins aren’t quivering by the end, you’re not alive. Literally not alive. As always, crank that shit up real high y’all.