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Orchestra conductors have to be in charge — it’s their job. Georg Tintner (1917-99) took firm control not only of his ensembles but also of his life, which he enfolded with two bold gestures that defined a man who accepted few compromises, both professionally and personally. As a rising star in Vienna, the 20-year-old Tintner already was a noted composer and performer, and seemed destined to take his place among the elite of the musical establishment. But when confronted with Nazism, he didn’t just slip over a border or even cross an ocean to America as so many others had done until the tempest passed. Rather, he defiantly sued to retain his conducting contract at the Austrian Opera, and when that failed got as far away as possible from the madness, eventually relocating to New Zealand and completely and permanently severing his ties to his destined life. Six decades later, Tintner was finally on the verge of recognition, but was battling an incurable cancer. Forced to confront the intolerable indignity of his powers beginning to ebb, he brought his first and only major recording project to a triumphant conclusion and then stepped off his 11th floor balcony into eternity. In between, Tintner reportedly led an exemplary life, but on his own terms. Perhaps stung by his wrenching dislocation from a promising routine career, he became the very antithesis of the typical ego-driven, globe-trotting conductor — instead of trying to retrieve the life he had left behind, he devoted himself to seeking opportunities to share his enthusiasm, educate audiences, develop youth ensembles, and bring great music to Australia, South Africa, Nova Scotia, and other locales far removed from the usual cultural centers. On a personal level, too, Tintner stood outside the mainstream of elitist, high-living, soul-searching artists — he was an ardent pacifist, strict vegetarian, and eternal optimist who carried his own lunch and loved conversing with people he met on his frequent walks and bicycle rides. It would be gratifying to complete this tale on a note of high moral reward with a report that Tintner’s ethical commitment and self-effacing character coalesced into a pure vision of unique and striking insight, now preserved on record to enlighten and stimulate all who might follow the example of his lifestyle and outlook. But rarely does art abide by such simple plots of cause and effect. (After all, some of the greatest musicians were scoundrels — Richard Wagner was a vicious racist, Arturo Toscanini a philanderer, etc.) Tintner’s few recordings suggest a man so humbled by the lessons of life that he grew to accept its challenges rather than fight them, worshipping so deeply before the altars of the masters that he felt unworthy of imposing his own interpretive stamp. While personally commendable, such reticence can leave a large artistic void, especially in 19th century works that were written in expectation of performers’ bold, assertive creative input. Tintner’s only widespread yet sadly belated critical notice arose from his complete set of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, released on the budget Naxos label from 1997 through 2000. Initial reports sounded like a practical joke — here was an unknown octogenarian attempting credible performances of this most German of music with three equally obscure and seemingly woefully unsuitable ensembles — the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and the New Zealand Symphony. Yet critics were generally ecstatic, lauding the excellence of the playing and the freshness of Tintner’s approach. Authentic Bruckner is generally ceded to the Austrian/German school of performance that emphasizes the weight, depth, and solidity of the massive structural harmonic blocks. Tintner’s pedigree within that tradition was solid — he sang for four years in the famed Vienna Boys Choir under Franz Schalk, Bruckner’s foremost student and disciple, and studied under some of the greatest teachers in Vienna. Yet his performances, while remarkable in their own right, stood clearly apart from the conventions of his training. In a way, Tintner’s humility, so far removed from the forceful personalities of the most respected Bruckner interpreters, seems ideally suited to that composer, who was among the meekest of men. Yet, still waters often run deep — Bruckner used his music not as a projection of his unassuming persona but rather as a private realm to which he escaped from the women who spurned him, the students who mocked him, and the cultural gatekeepers who barred him during his sad, discomfited life. While Tintner had more control over his own fate and undoubtedly derived satisfaction from his unusual professional achievements, perhaps he was able to identify with the composer to a greater degree than his affluent, outgoing peers and on a more fundamental, heartfelt, and altogether meaningful level. The result is a fascinating balance of the heft and commitment demanded by the later Bruckner masterpieces, and lightened, carefully balanced textures that equalize the instrumental lines and shine a penetrating light on the monolithic surfaces. The playing is remarkably solid, yet replaces the ultimate polish of the finest orchestras with a compelling sense of struggle and subtly shifting tension that effectively draws us into the composer’s hidden world. The sheer magnitude of any full Bruckner cycle is imposing enough, yet Tintner went further — he included not only the nine symphonies in the standard canon but also two early ones that Bruckner disavowed (now designated as “00″ and “0″), provided his own scholarly but accessible notes, and used early editions and alternate movements that place the familiar versions, which the composer often revised, in a new and fascinating light. Above all, he managed a near-miracle by coaxing persuasive performances out of his minor-league ensembles. Naxos is supplementing its Bruckner cycle with a “Tintner Memorial Edition” of 12 CDs in which Tintner applied his approach to other repertoire. The first seven discs, already available, comprise live performances by the Symphony Nova Scotia between 1988 and 1994. Of the remainder, two will present concerts by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and the final three are to be studio recordings of light pieces. The benefits and drawbacks of Tintner’s style are apparent in the second volume, presenting the two most renowned Schubert symphonies. In the Eighth (“Unfinished”), Tintner emphasizes the accompanying harmonic figures, often burying the exquisite melodies that seem so essential for Schubert. The result gives this overly familiar work a fresh veneer by piquing with unsuspected detail, focusing attention upon aspects often ignored, and leaving an impression that’s haunting and surreal. In the Ninth, though, Tintner’s reduced scale and literalism seem too subtle and diffuse to sustain interest throughout its considerable length and sprawling layout. The only surprise comes at the very end — not a sustained note of triumph, as the score indicates, but rather a gentle fade-out that drains the work of its customary power, as if to salute the composer’s gentle lyricism. Ironically, by refusing to highlight the usual structural signposts, Tintner’s Ninth inadvertently seems to vindicate early critics who had dismissed the work as too long and repetitive. I’ve reviewed all the Tintner recordings on my Web site at www.classicalnotes.net/columns/tintner.html. Although his Joseph Haydn is solid, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart classically balanced, and Johannes Brahms superbly polished, at first his recordings of more demanding repertoire can seem disappointing, yet it’s worth considering why. All are well-played but small-scaled, unfold patiently, and are somewhat bland, without the individualistic touches to which decades of fine recordings have made us accustomed. Often such objectivity can be mistaken for a lack of inspiration or even laziness. But it can also signal a conscious choice to eliminate rhetoric and refine music down to its essential elements. Perhaps Tintner is trying to tell us something about the nature of music, as he came to view it. Here was a man who ultimately made strict personal choices of what really mattered to him. The most memorable conductors distilled their life experiences into unique attitudes that colored their art — Toscanini’s steadfast drive, Bruno Walter’s warmth, Sergiu Celibidache’s Zen. Tintner did, too, but his color turned out to be transparent. In his unassuming way, Tintner reminds us that ultimately music is only an abstraction — an imaginative arrangement of audible frequencies that mystically triggers a personal emotional response — and that a mature listener shouldn’t demand elucidation of its components and structure through performers’ proactive interpretations. Great composers select and organize their material with care, instinct, and genius. If their unadorned work sounds boring, it’s less their fault than a sign of superficial listening. That said, there’s a difference between live and recorded music. The mere opportunity to hear great music performed with empathy and skill validates the concerts in which Tintner presented it. But with a zillion decent recordings already of the great masterpieces, why bother to publish another unless it adds to our existing knowledge by illuminating untried paths of understanding? While the Tintner Memorial Edition documents and perpetuates the taste and devotion of this wonderful man who meant so much to those who knew him or heard him perform, in all candor the records themselves, while fine and honest representations of his talent and outlook, seem redundant to all the others already available. That’s the ultimate irony — in music as in every endeavor, those who toot their horns the loudest get noticed and remembered while others with subtler messages remain in the shadows of anonymity. So I’m glad Naxos has issued the Tintner CDs — they’re not only a worthy memorial to a fine man but an important reminder that sometimes quiet, dedicated integrity has a place. And perhaps that place should get recognized and honored far more than it often does. Peter Gutmann is a partner at the D.C. office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and can be reached at [email protected]. Music articles by the author are posted on his Web site at www.classicalnotes.net.

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