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CD & Download: Pristine Audio

Alfred Hertz - Complete Recordings Vol. 3
Daniel-François AUBER (1782-1871)
Fra Diavolo - overture (1830) [7:45]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Le Cid - ballet music (1885) [16:54]
Phèdre - overture (acoustic recording) (1873) [9:17]
Phèdre - overture (electric recording) (1873) [9:09]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Coppélia - Dance of the Automatons and Waltz (1870) [4:08]
Sylvia - Intermezzo and Valse Lente [3:16] and Pizzicati [2:11]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Funeral March of a Marionette (1872/73) [4:43]
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Alfred Hertz
rec. 1925-28, San Francisco

Experience Classicsonline

The Francophile muse hovers benignly over this selection, the third such from Pristine Audio to celebrate the hitherto shrouded discographic career of the ‘Parsifal ban’-busting Alfred Hertz (Vol. 1; Vol. 2). The combustible, ample girthed and heavily bearded Teuton forged a successful career on the West Coast of America and as this surprisingly effective series of discs has shown us, we underestimate men like Hertz, like Landon Ronald, like Piero Coppola, and others of their ilk at our peril, and to our loss. So a brief bravo to the team responsible for resurrecting recordings that might not have seemed to be especially viable commercially - and who have, in addition, constructed intelligent, non-chronological retrospectives.
The Fra Diavolo overture was recorded in January 1925 in Oakland. It’s a decent sounding late acoustic. The percussion is audible, so too, necessarily, the brass reinforcements. Reduced through the orchestra’s complement was, they still put on a good show and the pert and insinuating music comes across well, the characteristic quality of the SF’s winds clearly heard, and so too the trumpet principal. One week later they were back in the studio recording the overture to Massenet’s Phèdre,a quite dramatic and nuanced reading with the wind/pizzicato episode attended to as well as one could wish under the acoustic process. Unusually for Hertz these two sides were both first takes. Three years later these forces recorded the overture again but this time electrically. Pristine has juxtaposed the performances so one can slip from the acoustic, to which one’s ears soon attune, to the electric where they’re forced to re-evaluate everything they’ve heard in the light of the immense technical advances wrought by the microphone. What was black and white becomes, in comparative terms, colour. The immediacy and trenchancy of the sound offers a fine perspective for those unfamiliar with the changes in the mid-1920s.
Lighter music follows. It’s not altogether surprising that they needed four takes to deal with the tricky rhythms of Delibes’s Dance of the Automatons and Waltz from Coppélia. Players need to be good counters for this. Equally winsome is the Sylvia pairing, frothy stuff, but engaging. Well characterised, the Gounod Funeral March of a Marionette has admirable frequency response, a situation clearly helped by the recording location - the Columbia Theatre in San Francisco. Picture postcard depictions of Spain follow via Massenet’s charming ballet music to Le Cid. This was recorded in February 1928 and issued in a three disc Victor album. One can flit about these geographic sketches, none too serious, and enjoy the vibrant drive of Castillane, the lilt and insinuating charm of Andalouse, or the swaying, festive blandishments of Aragonaise. Should these tire you, there’s always pert little Aubade, grandiloquent and sultry Catalane, the curvaceous allure and feminine charms of Madrilène and the bold, masculine Navarraise. In spite of myself I was rather surprised by Hertz’s idiomatic handling of these brief and colourful studies.
This is an excellently realised disc; well prepared and transferred, and securely programmed. It’s also good fun, and musically satisfying.
Jonathan Woolf













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