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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Juan (1888-9) [15:44]
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1894-5) [14:42]
Salome’s Dance (1903-05) [8:21]
Festive Prelude (1913) [12:39]
Hans PFITZNER
(1869-1949)

Symphony for Large Orchestra in C major, Three Movements in One, Op. 46 (1940) [15:31]
Hanns Ander-Donath, (organ)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Karl Böhm (Pfitzner, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Salome); Kurt Striegler (Festive Prelude)
rec. Semperoper, Dresden, January 1941 (Pfitzner); January 1939 (Don); January 1941 (Till); January 1939 (Salome); Dresden Frauenkirche, May 1944 (Prelude).
PROFIL PH07010 [67:22]



It is the rare and happy occasion that a collector finds such a treasure trove as this. In this the thirteenth volume of Günter Hänssler’s ongoing series of recordings from the archives of Dresden’s magnificent Staatskapelle, we have been given a gift of the highest artistic and historical value. Restored in magnificent and reverberant sound, we are fortunate to have four works conducted by a young Karl Böhm recorded at the height of his relationships to both Pfitzner and Strauss. We are also treated to a rare find indeed, the sounds, via the Festive Prelude, of the great Silbermann organ of the Frauenkirche, tragically destroyed in the fire bombing of Dresden in 1945.
 
Known as the Strauss orchestra thanks to the long and fruitful relationship it enjoyed with the composer, I have often contended that the Dresden band is one of the finest in the world. Listening to these sixty-plus year old recordings, it is easy to conclude that the present-day magnificence of the orchestra is simply a continuation of a tradition that goes back more than a century. Further proof of the orchestra’s superiority is borne out by the fact that these practically flawless, expertly paced and rendered performances were all recorded in single recording sessions for the German Electrola label.
 
Pfitzner and Strauss were near contemporaries, five years apart in age and both dying in the same year. On occasion and in their early years, their works would appear side by side on concert programs. Although both were romantics and spoke a common musical language, the similarities between the two end quickly. For Strauss, composing music was second nature. Works flowed easily and effortlessly from his pen, and he went on to become on of the first composers in history to gain both international fame and a considerable fortune.
 
Pfitzner, on the other hand, struggled for recognition and although he gained the respect of his contemporaries, he is little known today. This indeed is a shame, as his music is full of interesting and original ideas, and is highly melodic and richly orchestrated. A quick search of Archivmusic.com shows a rather meager representation of his music on disc, and most of the available recordings are historical. CPO upholding its stellar reputation for offering interesting and unusual music to the world seems to have done its part with a goodly number of discs dedicated to this composer’s oeuvre.
 
The compact but musically overflowing symphony presented here is an essay in efficiency of form. At just over fifteen minutes, Pfitzner manages to present bravura, expressive melody and intricate counterpoint with the utmost economy. The Staatskapelle plays superbly for Böhm. Spotless intonation and flawless articulation are the hallmarks, with the utmost expression and clarity.
 
The Strauss works certainly need little description, although a few comments are worth the bandwidth here. First, the remarkable re-mastering job by THS Studio-Holger Siedler of Dormagen must be not only recognized but held up as an example for all to see. The sheer depth of sound, the almost breathtaking shimmer of the strings and the transparent clarity of the winds and brass is simply phenomenal. That these ancient sides contain so much information is amazing in and of itself. That these engineers found it all and brought it back to the public is nearly miraculous. If there is anything eyebrow-raising at all, it would have to be the brisk tempi of Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel. One can easily surmise, however that this is due to the limitation of side-lengths in the 78 RPM era and thus a bit of a necessary evil.
 
The prize of all here is the splendid recording of the Festive Prelude. It is first remarkable because of its high level of execution. It is invaluable in that it is a rare recording of the great Silbermann organ of the Dresden Frauenkirche, performed by its last resident organist. Hanns Ander-Donath truly suffered for his art, falling afoul of both the church establishment and the East German communists. Regrettably, these personal set-backs robbed the world of a great musical treasure, as Ander-Donath suffered in silence during a professional banishment that lasted through the apex of his playing years. That there are a number of surviving recordings is a blessing, and yet a sad reminder of what there might have been.
 
Further, this recording highlights the utter tragedy that was the attack on Dresden in 1945, which saw the utter destruction of most of the city, including its theatres and concert halls, and the ancient and magnificent Frauenkirche. The recording stands as a ghostly voice of a glorious past, and an eternal reminder of what warfare can steal from the world’s culture.
 
This exemplary production is rounded off by beautiful presentation and detailed, informative and very readable program notes. This is a recording not to be missed, either by serious collectors or by the merely curious. It is a glorious reflection of a bygone era, a time in which art and beauty held much more value than they do today. Ah, blessed memory.
 
Kevin Sutton
 


 


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