Pfitzner conducts Overtures
Ludwig van MOZART (1756-1791)
The Marriage of Figaro – overture K492 (1786) [4:10]
Così fan tutte – overture K588 (1790) [4:38]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz – overture (1821) [9:39]
Preciosa – incidental music: overture (1821) [7:28]
Oberon – overture (1826) [8:08] ¹
Jubel – overture [8:15] ¹
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 -1847)
Hebrides overture (Fingal’s Cave) Op.26 (1830) [8:39] ¹
Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)
Zar und Zimmermann – overture (1837) [6:31]
Joseph LANNER (1801-1843)
Pesther-walzer Op.93 (1834) [6:33]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Hans Pfitzner
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Pfitzner ¹
rec. 1927-33, Berlin

The rubric ‘Pfitzner Conducts Overtures’, under which this disc sails, is unusual. More commonly what Pfitzner has conducted on transfer to CD is the symphonic repertoire – Beethoven and Schumann. I’ve reviewed his Beethoven on Naxos (review review). Collectors of his conducting recordings will have obtained the Pfitzner-conducts-Pfitzner side of things. But what has been less in evidence is the series of recordings of overtures of music by composers such as the ones enshrined in this latest disc. They date from the period 1927-33 and major on Weber, for whose music he shows real flair and understanding.
It’s a shame that the Weber series begins with the overture to Der Freischütz – not because of the performance, which is excellent, but because of the recording. It used Brunswick’s ‘Light-Ray’ process which, as Mark Obert-Thorn honestly remarks in the documentation, was ‘notorious for the distortion it produced during loud passages’. I’ve heard plenty of Light-Rays but even so wasn’t quite prepared for the horrible mess the system made of (in particular) the horn writing when at full bray. The distortion is queasy. But if you can overlook this, you will hear rugged power, and the deep, dank mystery evoked by Pfitzner. The only other Light-Ray recording is that of the overture to Preciosa, though the distortion here is not as marked. What did interest me was the long rallentando at around 3:18 which I assume marked the side change. This occupied two sides whereas Der Freischütz took three.
The Oberon and Jubel overtures are both with the Berlin Philharmonic, as is Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave. Everything else is with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann overture is notable for the fine bass definition and depth, as much as the buoyant and admirable reading. The encore charm of Lanner’s Pesther-walzer is no less exciting and enjoyable. Finally one must mention the Mozart overtures - a contrasting pair as far as I was concerned. Figaro has sensible tempi but Così never really gets airborne and remains rather dogged and literal.

These Berlin recording have been justly remastered, and their limitations mitigated as far as is possible. Don’t overlook Pfitzner’s overture recordings in a rush to acquire his symphonic discs. They are more than just a footnote.
Jonathan Woolf

More than just a footnote.