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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.8 in B minor Unfinished, D759 (1822) [27:12]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Leonore Overture No.3, Op.72 (1805) [14:00]
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.36 (1801) [35:02]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Lehmann
rec. November 1952 (Schubert), February 1953 (Symphony No.2) and May 1954 (Leonore)
MAGDALEN METCD 8020 [76:35]

It’s Magdalen’s intention to bring back into circulation great deleted or overlooked recordings. They’ve already made a good start, having released standard repertoire including Malko’s Dvořák Slavonic Dances and Lympany’s Rachmaninov (the first three concertos and the Preludes) as well as things by Werner Egk and Künnecke. The release under review is about as standard rep as one can get; Beethoven and Schubert.
 
It’s certainly possible to argue that Fritz Lehmann was under-appreciated in his lifetime. Rather like Arthur Rother and Wilhelm Schüchter, he tended to be taken for granted, but unlike Schüchter, Lehmann, who was born in 1904, didn’t have too much time to mature, as he died during a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1956. So, to take Magdalen’s raison d’être at face value: how good was Fritz Lehmann, and is this disc an example of great performances?
 
Well, we know from many other examples that Lehmann was an assiduous musician who had a gratifyingly wide repertory. Magdalen itself has already released anthologies featuring Humperdinck, Donizetti, Wagner and Pfitzner on METCD 8003 and 8009. He was a pioneering German exponent of the music of Handel, for instance, and was active on the Archiv arm of DG. He often appeared and recorded with the Bamberg Symphony, the Bavarian Radio Symphony and, as here, the Berlin Philharmonic.
 
This is not a small matter, as when he set down his interpretations, Wilhelm Furtwängler was still conductor of the BPO. The Beethoven Symphony and Leonore overture were originally released on a 10" LP, whereas the Unfinished was on a 12". Lehmann is a probity-conscious Beethovenian, and has none of Furtwängler’s intensities and immensities about him. Still, this is no withdrawn or pallid reading; Magdalen quote a contemporary review which praised the Symphony performance for its elegance in line and texture; I wouldn’t disagree. The high point, in my view, is the slow movement, which is admirably projected. Leonore taps into Lehmann’s more dramatic, red-blooded self.
 
The Schubert was up against quite a lot of competition when it was issued: Beecham and Walter were in the top tier and near them were Toscanini, Jochum, Böhm, Keilberth, Krips and Steinberg, amongst others. The recording is pretty reasonable and attractively balanced. The BPO plays extremely well though without the intensity they brought to bear in the very different performances given by their regular conductor. Lehmann’s is altogether a more relaxed view of the work, aided by some distinctive wind playing - not least by the first flute.
 
The transfers are taken from commercial LP copies. They’re largely reasonable though the opening of the Schubert does present some problems with quite a lot of crackling. I don’t think we’ve quite established that these recordings are without question great, but they are certainly overlooked.
 
Jonathan Woolf


Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 2