This CD includes Pftizner’s Symphony for Large Orchestra in C Major, Op. 46, which was recorded in January 1941 and released on LP in March of that year. Conducted by Karl Böhm, this recording captures a performance by a conductor who knew the composer firsthand. This historic release benefits from nicely restored sound, which brings an exciting performance from a single recording session. If Pfitzner is known today more for his contributions to opera, particularly Palestrina, his efforts at symphonic composition are by no means insignificant. Among his three symphonies, the Op. 46 work in C major is certainly convincing. The heroic-sounding themes suggest a post-Romantic idiom, which certainly helped to keep this and other, similar works in performance during the Third Reich, when this recording was made. This Hänssler release presents the work in a single, continuous band, which could benefit from divided into three, in order to make the three movements of the Symphony more readily accessible.
The remaining pieces in this volume are works by Richard Strauss, a composer with whom Böhm had a long association. While Böhm’s later recordings are, perhaps more familiar to modern audiences, this reissue offers solid readings from the conductor’s younger days. Consistent with Böhm’s reputation for convincing performances, the recordings demonstrate his fine sense of pacing and dynamic balance, which is apparent even in these relatively early recordings. Don Juan contains a sparkle and verve that brings a sense of immediacy to this recording. The recording techniques for this 1939 recording have a nice, direct sound, with minimal hiss and nice ambience. The virtuosity of the Staatskapelle emerges in the fine ensemble and clear playing of this recording.
Another recording from 1939, the famous “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss’s opera Salome is, perhaps, more familiar from Böhm’s later recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. In the 1939 recording, the excerpt sounds as if it were taken from a performance of the opera. The band opens with brisk tempos and prominent percussion. If the winds sound at first somewhat close to the microphones, they eventually balance the full string sonorities found later in this cut, which are nicely incisive. The percussion, especially the xylophone fit well into the full texture of the piece, and Böhm distinguishes nicely between the agitated rhythmic figure with which the dance begins, and the more romantic motives that intersect the music almost schizophrenically. The performance has a nice drive, which sets up the ending effectively.
Böhm’s performance of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche dates from 1941, and is another solid reading. This more extended piece by Strauss gives further evidence of the Staatskapelle’s fine musicianship and also its longstanding familiarity with the composer’s music. The sound is particularly effective, reflecting in some ways the kinds of sounds found in film scores of the day. Here Böhm is as engaging as he would later evince a solid connection with tradition.
The final selection, which dates from 1944, is a more popular-sounding work of Strauss, the Festliches Präludium, Op. 61. Conducted by Kurt Striegler, this work includes Hanss Ander-Donath, organ, in a work which is certainly less familiar than the other selections found on this recording. Recorded in Dresden’s Frauenkirche, the sound is more resonant than that found in the other selections, which were made in the Semperoper. The venue is appropriate for the inclusion of the organ, which can be heard, but sometimes merges into the mass of sound Strauss used in this work.
With its nice combination of familiar works with less performed literature, this recording is more than an historic curiosity. The recordings are spirited and reflect the engagement of the musicians involved with them in works that drew audiences of period to concerts. This release certainly augments the ongoing audio-documentation of the Dresden Staatskapelle with these well-chosen selections made during the Second World War.
James L. Zychowicz