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Decca Phase 4
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]
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
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
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.
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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