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Ernst PEPPING (1901-1981)
Symphony No. 2 in F minor [37:53]
Heinz SCHUBERT (1908-1945)
Hymnisches Konzert for soloists, organ and orchestra [37:41] *
Erna Berger (soprano) *
Walter Ludwig (tenor) *
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live 30 October 1943 (Pepping); 6 December 1942 (Schubert)
MELODIYA MELCD 1001101 [75:37]

In a review of a companion volume to this Melodiya release I noted that this company is still advancing claims for widely disputed recordings. I added that to continue to reissue these and other performances in this way – Haydn, d’Albert, Glazunov - without any such warning on the box itself, is a move open to censure. Discussing this in the booklet and then coming to the conclusion that they are in reality Viennese broadcasts – highly debatable - will not help the hapless newcomer. That’s a general failing of this series but it certainly doesn’t relate to this specific example of Furtwängler’s wartime broadcasts, one that conjoins Pepping and Heinz Schubert. These performances have been released before of course; you might have come across it on a DG box devoted to these wartime broadcasts or on Russian Compact Disc 25016.
They are rare examples of the conductor’s promotion of contemporary German music. Better-known examples after the work involved Blacher, Höller and Fortner. Pepping’s Symphony is a perplexingly old-fashioned affair. The bewildering range of influences include Bruckner, Strauss (Richard), Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. For all that it’s very enjoyable with a swinging march theme in the first movement and some balletic Tchaikovskian material in the second. The ghost of the Siegfried Idyll appears here too. A bluff scherzo with vaguely Imperial touches adds spice though it’s too repetitious. The finale reminds one of Pepping’s polyphonic strengths and is cast in a kind of neo-romantic, neo-polyphonic, crypto-baroque form complete with a brusque fugal paragraph. It’s well played though there are the inevitable live slips – and excellently recorded.
Heinz Schubert’s Hymnisches Konzert is another highly odd work. It’s polyphonic and again neo-romantic with swathes of Bachian writing to nail it securely to the continuum of German choral writing. Powerful and intense it represents, I suppose, the acceptable face of confessional neo-baroque Protestant music in the Germany of the time – though this is perhaps not the place to excavate views of National Socialist tastes in music nor indeed Furtwängler’s own.  Schubert certainly encourages soloistic touches – string solos of exemplary sensitivity, a solo trumpet coursing chorale-like. The Sanctus Domine is elegiac and a tough, melismatic sing for Berger and Ludwig – both excellent – whilst the florid writing elsewhere hints at a carnal embrace between Bach and Orff, only much beefier. Consoling and powerful it returns to its opening – noble, organ fuelled and brassy and heavy – after thirty-seven minutes. It’s a real oddity, though played with remarkable conviction and once more splendidly recorded for the time and place.
Jonathan Woolf



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