Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 – 1826): Overture: Euryanthe (1822/1823) [8:48]
Overture: Abu Hassan (1810/1811) [3:27]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856) Manfred, op.115 (1848/1849) – Overture [10:54] and Alpenkuhreigen und Zwischenaktmusik [3:59]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827) Overture: Egmont, op.84 (1810) [8:01]
Symphony No.6 in F, Pastoral, op.68 (1807/1808) [42:50]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Max von Schillings
rec. 8 October 1928 (Euryanthe), 14 December 1928 (Egmont), 19 December 1928 (Hassan), 3 and 10 May 1929 (Manfred), 16, 23 and 30 December 1929 (Pastoral), all recorded in Berlin ADD
reissues from Parlophon P–9848 and 9849 (Weber), P–9484 and 9485 (Schumann), P–8456 (Egmont) and P–9463 to 9468 (Pastoral)

If he’s remembered at all, it’s for his opera Mona Lisa (1915) but those interested in the history of recording will also know Max von Schillings as a conductor; he made many records. He was a teacher, one of his more famous pupils was Wilhelm Furtwängler, the dedicatee of Delius’s Sea Drift, an opponent of the Weimar Republic and an anti–Semite. It was during his short tenure as President of the Prussian Academy of the Arts that the expulsion of Jewish, and free–thinking, artists started. He removed Schönberg from the teaching staff and demanded that Franz Schreker take early retirement. He was Intendant of the Berlin State Opera, from 1918 to 1925, where these recordings were made.

The Euryanthe Overture has a delicate middle section, more so than one might have expected given the date of the recording, which is framed by a very jaunty allegro. A nicely paced performance this. I thought at the start of the Abu Hassan Overture that it had been recorded with the orchestra at some distance from the microphone, but suddenly a crescendo brought the players to the forefront and I realised that here was a magnificent piano to commence the work. After that it’s playful and Schillings shows a light touch throughout the piece, revelling in the many jokes in the music.

Schumann’s Manfred Overture is expansive, but full of drama and fire, with an exciting forward pulse, which Schillings relaxes for the lyrical music at the centre of the piece. He builds a fine climax and the dying away at the end is tragic, made all the more so because of his deliberate tempo. The Alpenkuhreigen und Zwischenaktmusik is a nice bit of incidental music, which, on the original 78s, must have come as a blessed relief after the tension of the Overture on the other three sides of the two discs.

The meat of this issue comes from Beethoven. The Overture to Egmont is stormy, with a firm rhythmic sense and a lot of energy. The coda is especially thrilling! This is a very impressive, and personal, performance indeed. The Pastoral Symphony holds no surprises and this is a straightforward performance with sensible tempi and a very smooth sheen to it.

The orchestral playing is pretty good, with a solid ensemble, solo voices popping out of the tutti and just as easily becoming part of the whole again. The sound is impressively bright and clears with no surface noise. Schillings wasn’t a virtuoso conductor by any means, and although these aren’t the very best historic performances of these works on disk, they are very good and offer a fascinating example of the Berlin Opera Orchestra in concert music, playing under its recent chief. Not for everyone, perhaps, but it must not be missed by anyone interested in the art of orchestral performance.

Bob Briggs

Not to be missed by anyone interested in the art of orchestral performance