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A fine collection of overtures conducted by Hans Pfitzner
"An enterprising collection that will be of much interest to historic collectors" - Fanfare
Previous reissues devoted to composer/conductor Hans Pfitzner have focused on his recordings of Beethoven and Schumann symphonies, as well as those of his own compositions. This release brings together (for the first time, I believe) his complete commercially-issued electrical recordings of works by other composers – mainly overtures, and in one case a waltz.
The sources for the transfers were French Polydor pressings of the two Mozart overtures, the Oberon Overture and part of the Hebrides Overture. The rest of the Hebrides came from a British Decca pressing, and the remaining items came from German Polydor or Grammophon discs. The Freischütz and Preciosa Overtures were recorded using Brunswick’s “Light-Ray” process. Notorious for the distortion it produced during loud passages, it was quickly abandoned by Polydor.
MOZART Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Matrix no.: 255 BS II
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 27066
MOZART Così fan tutte – Overture
Matrix no.: 256 BS II
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 27066
WEBER Der Freischütz – Overture
Matrix nos.: 320 ½ bi, 321 bi and 322 bi
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 66545/6
WEBER Preciosa – Overture
Matrix no.: 323 bi and 324 bi
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 66544
WEBER Oberon – Overture
Matrix no.: 917 bm and 918 bm
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 95091
WEBER Jubel Overture
Matrix no.: 921 ½ bm and 922 bm
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 19858
MENDELSSOHN Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)
Matrix no.: 919 bm and 929 BI I
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 95372
LORTZING Zar und Zimmermann – Overture
Matrix no.: 1627 BM I and 1628 BM I
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 27069
LANNER Pestherwalzer, Op. 93
Matrix no.: 5294 ½ BD 3 and 5295 ½ BD 3
First issued on Grammophon/Polydor 10133
1927 (3, 4)
1928 (5, 6, 7)
1929 (1, 2, 7, 8)
Berlin State Opera Orchestra (1-4, 8, 9)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (5-7)
conductor Hans Pfitzner
Recorded in Berlin, 1927-33
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Hans Pfitnzer by Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski, ca 1910
Special thanks to Richard Kaplan for providing source material
Total duration: 64:01
Expert transfers from Mark Obert-Thorn
Although Hans Pfitzner’s symphonic recordings (Beethoven and Schumann) have been widely circulated on CD (Naxos and Preiser), his recordings of shorter works have not, and this disc of early electricals (1927–33) usefully fills a gap.
The performances are of variable quality: Pfitzner was by all accounts an impressive all-around musician but not the most technically accomplished of conductors, and this limitation is felt more acutely here than on the larger canvases of his Beethoven symphony recordings, where his idiosyncratic interpretive vision usually survived any shortcomings of technique. The collection gets off to a good start with a spirited Figaro, with nicely observed detail and not over-driven. Also impressive is the urgent (8:39), restless, volatile Hebrides. Recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1928, its lean sonorities—sweet strings and light-toned, vibrato-free wind playing, with fast-speaking articulation—make a fascinating contrast with the dark, saturated tonal blend Furtwängler draws from the same players in his own recording of just two years later (Naxos or Koch). Così fan tutte is bedeviled by constant fussy tempo changes (Pfitzner slows down every time for the woodwind figure in eighth notes, then speeds up again), and has a crude excision from the recapitulation to accommodate it on one side. Der Freischütz is rhythmically approximate, with slack, uncoordinated string syncopations in the main theme. It also suffers from crude wind reinforcement of the string basses, producing a grotesque honking effect in the quiet “Wolf’s Glen” passages. Preciosa and Jubel are spirited enough, if a little scrappy, but Oberon is impetuous and exciting, benefiting greatly from the superior playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. The Lortzing and Lanner are welcome rarities (especially the latter—a real gem!), given affectionate and idiomatic performances.
So, nothing earthshaking, but an enterprising collection that will be of much interest to historic collectors. Expert transfers from Mark Obert-Thorn, and credit to Fanfare colleague Richard A. Kaplan for supplying the original 78s.
This article originally appeared in Issue 35:4 (Mar/Apr 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.