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Editorial Board
Classical Editor
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Alfred Hertz - Complete San Francisco Recordings - Volume 2
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Les Préludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3 (1854-56) [15:37]
rec. 27 February 1928 at the Scottish Rite Temple, Oakland
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal: Prelude to Act I (1882) [13:46]
Parsifal: Good Friday Spell (Act III) (1882) [11:10]
rec. 24, 26, 31 January, 1925 (Prelude)
and 31 January and 2 February 1925 (Good Friday Spell) in Oakland
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act I (1865) [9:06]
Tristan und Isolde: Liebestod (Act III) (1865) [6:09]
rec. 20 April 1926 (Prelude) and 22 April 1926 (Liebestod) in Oakland
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor (orch. Parlow) [2:38]
Hungarian Dance No. 6 in D major (orch. Parlow) [3:20]
rec. 13 April 1927 in the Columbia Theatre, San Francisco
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Alfred Hertz
rec. Victor between 1925 and 1928


Experience Classicsonline

Things move speedily in these circles and no sooner has one welcomed volume one in this series than the second instalment appears. The series is dedicated to that semi-forgotten conductor Alfred Hertz. The breaker of the Parsifal ban was a mover and shaker on the West Coast of America with the San Francisco Symphony. The superior transfer work of Mark Obert-Thorn has allowed us access to a corner of the 78 catalogue both undervalued and under-collected (see also Landon Ronald and Percy Pitt).
Hertz had already set down a ‘suite’ from Parsifal with the Berlin Philharmonic so he was no stranger to recording it. The fact that this was made in 1913 hardly diminishes the impact of the recordings he made over a decade later during his American sojourn.
Clearly there is a programmatic element at work in this selection, which groups together his Wagnerian recordings of Parsifal and Tristan, prefacing them with Liszt and ending with the encore potential of the two Brahms Hungarian Dances. It’s not inappropriate I think to point out that a similar kind of programme could, and has, been made of Furtwängler’s 1930s recordings.
One of the advantages of opening with the Liszt – I know one will programme these things but nevertheless - is that it’s in the best sound and is the latest of the pieces to have been recorded. One might think of Mengelberg here, whose own electric recording of Les Préludes post-dates Hertz’s but not by much, and who also made an acoustic recording in 1922. So, Mengelberg-Furtwängler is the perhaps ahistorical way that one may view the repertoire now, as it’s arguable that contemporaries would have ascribed things the other way around, and seen those two conductors as following in Hertz’s path.
The Liszt in any case is a substantial statement and even a first side dubbing doesn’t really lessen one’s admiration. Tempestuous but marshalled, with winds and harp properly audible this is an excellent example of executant standards in the orchestra at the time.
The Wagner sequence supports his reputation as an outstanding exponent. Parsifal unfortunately was made acoustically which lessens the sonic impact substantially. The band was reduced in size with the usual bass doubling. It was recorded over four days. One can hear individual string strands – listen especially to the first violins at 6:45 in the Prelude to Act I. The disparity between high winds and low brass is more marked in The Good Friday Music where the small violin section struggles slightly. The Tristan extracts are early electrics and move with fluid nobility and control. There are bass reinforcements here as well.
There was a much bigger and more open acoustic for the Brahms Hungarian Dances recorded in the Columbia Theatre, San Francisco. It makes for a big contrast with the cramped Oakland acoustic, and is definitely in the orchestra’s favour.
So, another decided success story in the Hertz San Francisco discography, and appetites are whetted for the next volume.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Maynard




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