It’s Beethoven’s Coriolan overture, 9-25-52, the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra playing . . . Bar 3 and Beethoven’s staccato quarter popping out of that long low opening chord is fortissimo PLUS! Four bars later the same again and the timpani participating in the echoing staccato is so ALL THERE . . . bar 15 the almost stuttering main theme begins a LITTLE BELOW the composer’s allegro con brio, the conductor taking a cue, perhaps, from the fact Beethoven wrote tenuto over the fourth beat in the bar, then two bars later as the music sniffs a crescendo posted a couple measures up the road the conductor SUBTLY BUT PALPABLY ACCELERATES, adding to the tension . . . On the music goes and at bar 29 the piano entrance of the cellos and basses, a fraction ahead of their syncopated brethren the violins and violas, has a HUSKY LITTLE ATTACA sound to it, a quick brushstroke of color — or what the novelist Paul Theroux would call a “vivid splinter” — and when at 52 the floating and relatively peaceful second theme appears the tempo again is SLIGHTLY GUARDED, eight or ten beats per minute slower than the performance’s core speed. Now tension builds toward the development and from bar 92 the above-the-staff syncopations in the violins leading to one and then another sforzando seem to SHOOT INTO THE AIR as if from an artillery battery . . .

This is the septuagenarian Carl Schuricht at work, trading as it were on a delightful little black market of nuance, the nuance that keeps a piece of music, especially such a dramatic one as this – this Stuttgart performance suggests at times an insomniac thrashing about his bed – from turning metronomical. Ah, Monsieur Inghelbrecht would have words for that! Schuricht true to form is exceedingly careful for all his enlivening touches not to tamper with the organic flow of the music. And oh, there’s always that youthful charisma. The word is that Schuricht’s musicmaking as he continued to conduct well into his Eighties simply increased in magnetism and you can hear it in his octogenarial broadcasts from Stuttgart, Munich and Paris. Dare one say it, he had at this stage, this nattily bow-tied fellow walking with a cane, a wife half his age. This proves nothing, you may argue, but the history of conducting is well stocked with such creatures, assorted second wives/girlfriends/muses who almost certainly had a part in unlocking and maintaining the creative juices needed to propel, for instance, Schuricht’s Brahms Second broadcast from Baden Baden when he was 85.

Remember, by the way, the aged composer Kodaly’s proposal to the very young woman who became his last wife, “Dear, would you be my widow?”

Many would cite Anton Bruckner as the quintessential Schuricht-served composer, but for me it’s  Brahms that stands at the very core of his recorded oeuvre. Now Schuricht at heart had a style that was brisk, forward, robust, deciso. But he knew how to bend, and in Brahms that latitude, felicitous latitude even when swinging now and then from mood to mood like a bi-polar monkey of the rostrum — see especially the finale of a Frankfurt Radio First Symphony from 1965 — could be wide indeed. Rather in the mode of Max Fiedler . . . The Brahms Second from Stuttgart is a delight – one shouldn’t be fooled by abundant contemplative tempos into thinking this is an old man’s performance – and I treasure its winning detail, the effortless highlighting for instance of the syncopated three-packs of notes in clarinet and flute, minor cries from the symphonic forest, just before the caressing second theme in the first movement.

But it’s the finale of Brahms’ Fourth from Paris 3-24-59 that is quite amazing. A decoy of interpretive rectitude scarcely prepares us for not only the Dead Slow tempo of the famous flute variation, no. 12, but also the extreme delicacy with which the already light accompaniment to this protagonist, piano dolce then poco crescendo, is almost brushed away so the flute registers as nothing short of a lost soul caught in a wasteland devoid of population living or dead. This flute is like a Wozzeck on the moon.

Bruckner à la Schuricht? Plainspoken but deeply felt, the work of a rugged individualist who doesn’t make a statement of Interpretive Policy. No part of this legacy is better than his commercial recording of the Ninth with the Vienna Philharmonic, a tingling, ruminative performance Rembrandtian in color and imperturbable in its mighty swing. It sounds in a kind of Wiener vapor that softens appreciably the music’s sins of augmentation. And mark how the second theme of the opening movement weeps. Another landmark: the spare and gleamy Bruckner Seventh from the Hamburg Radio 10-4-54 – it’s so CLEAN you could be looking into a highly polished mirror . . . But Schuricht, Reger-trained, Wiesbaden-seasoned, Swiss-adopted, shepherd of choirs as well as orchestras, is not all Beethoven-Brahms-Bruckner. Case in point a broadcast of Debussy’s La Mer from Stuttgart 5-23-52 presenting us with a parade of vivid moods. The opening is as transparent as dangerous, the syncopated pianissimo line of the cellos from the third bar unusually present. At Letter 3 as the opening movement gets into its 6/8 gear the octaves of muted horns piano expressif et soutenu sound especially subterranean, as if issuing from some grotto out of Pelléas et Mélisande. The peroration at the end of movement 1 is massive and luminous, the stained glass of a giant cathedral — not an engulfed one, that is! – coming quickly to mind. But wasn’t Schuricht an organ builder’s son?

Then there’s a Stuttgart Firebird Suite of Stravinsky (2-12-57) with a springy, daffy Katschei’s Dance and an attractively pining Berceuse. And you can trust your Tchaikovsky to Herr Schuricht, witness a taut and throaty Hamlet (Stuttgart, 10-24-52) and a Fourth Symphony (11-26-54, same venue) in which passion and a clever flexibility of tempo promote spontaneity. The same could be said for Verdi, Schuricht’s account of the Requiem at the Concertgebouw 11-2-39 being a winner, peppered with a despair that could be applied to the times – but the cordial Schuricht was still welcome in Holland during the “phony war” period, except to a lone listener who stomped out of one of his Dutch performances and not without words!

Sail down the main line of the Austro-German repertoire and we note: a Haydn 86th (Stuttgart ’54 again) with a peppy, equine first movement allegro and in the sly trio of the minuet an ambitious swain with something up his sleeve; then a Mozart 35th with the Vienna Philharmonic that takes the music for a delightful breath of fresh air — lots of character here from page 1 with its question mark diminuendo, not composer specified, at the top of a two octave staccato leap . .  and there’s a Vienna Schubert Unfinished in which the climax of the first movement development is positively Tchaikovskian in its spikey march of hair-raisingly authoritative trombones. Add to all this the blessed simplicity of his legato in the Dawn from Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung as summoned easily from the Paris Conservatory Orchestra.

Schumann was a Schuricht specialty and one can’t do better than his commercial recordings of the Second and Rhenish symphonies. My log of the Second mentions the wonderful swirl of intensity as the first movement allegro ma non troppo is sighted, the slowish tempo for the scherzo in which an E.M. Forster character might see pristine butterflies all a-flutter, a slow movement in which the gorgeous melody is fetchingly cradled. Schumann in his Rhenish score proposed for the scherzo the tempo very moderately, an expression scarcely more useful than very interesting! – or how about, “it’s, like, very interesting.” Suffice to say that Schuricht conducts the music faster than that nebulous directive seems to indicate and it takes on a welcome lift as a result. The slow movement is dreamy indeed, and, no surprise, the so-called Cathedral scene has that Mighty Fortress sound.

Although not as well known for this predilection as Bruno Walter, Jascha Horenstein, Leonard Bernstein and some others Schuricht was a champion of Mahler’s music. His Stuttgart broadcast of Mahler’s Third 4-7-60 is  exceptionally brisk and youthful, the heartbreaking slow finale delivered in a timing of only 21 minutes — which skirts haste by just a little in order to make a triumphant effect. And you know, what this is in a way is Schuricht’s triumph over old age. What an engaging figure Schuricht was. Oh dear, I’ll always regret the Saturday I drove up to Paris from my U.S. Army gig in Orléans to hear him conduct the whole of Schumann’s Manfred at the Théatre des Champs Elysées and, alas, he had to cancel. The hurt was all the more when my journalistic mentor Al Fried (to judge by the eyes a cousin of Oskar!) returned from Europe to San Francisco a few years later and told me a Bruckner performance by Schuricht was perhaps the most moving of his life.

. . . And just after writing the above I came into possession of a rare Schuricht video – there he is, standing ultra-erect, a small Mont Blanc of a handkerchief stationed in his breast pocket, his movements the very model of ECONOMY, his left hand plucking nuances out of the air, an eyebrow raised now and then in imperial exhortation, eyes flashing at times like those of a Mad Scientist. Serenely beckoning fingers suggest a patriarchal maitre-d’ signalling across a sea of Michelin-starred tables promising enjoyment . . . And P.S.: Better not to let one’s life go by without experiencing Schuricht’s EMI Beethoven cycle benefiting not only from his conductorial gifts but the spacious acoustics of Paris’ Salle Wagram, home to everything from boxing matches to political debates, which may of course be the same thing. There’s an off-the-air Eroica from Stuttgart as well, dated 2-29-52. Notice that hint of a personally minted crescendo as he leaps through the famous six-chords-in-a-row, each marked sforzando, in the opening movement.