Hans Pfitzner as conductor. Schumann Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture

If I can manage to get back to regular posts here, and do some more transfer work, this will be the first of about three posts of recordings by Hans Pfitzner, mostly (but not entirely) focusing on him interpreting the works of other composers.  First up is an extremely rare acoustic recording of the the 1st Schumann Symphony.  I think you will find that the ear adjusts fairly quickly to the reduced orchestra and limited recording quality.  One thing that will come as a shock are the first notes played by the brass, because rather than the indicated fanfare on the notes D, Bb, C and D, they play down a major third from this, starting on Bb!! I’m not sure why this is the case, and have never heard this in another performance. (note: see Paul’s “comment” below for an explanation of this!)

It is certainly much easier to hear the hallmarks of Pfitzner’s interpretive style with the improved sonics of the 2nd Schumann Symphony and Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture.  There is an unforced quality that may seem, at first, like the conductorial reins are held loosely.  Careful listening reveals a wealth of nuance and shaping that is on a very high order of sophistication indeed!  Balances are carefully chosen, often with unusual contrapuntal elements subtly highlighted (but never in a contrived or spotlit manner).  I’ll just mention a couple of representative moments in the first movement:  the very “directed” shape of the cello lines at 4:26 and afterward, and the wonderful trombone “stinger” on the chord at 6:05.  Somehow through all of this it is the lyricism that comes through as the prevailing focus….I’m not sure that you will find longer lines and phrases in another performance.  Generally the Berlin State Opera Orchestra is up to the task, but there are a few ragged moments in the difficult string parts in the Scherzo movement.

It’s interesting to hear the differences (perhaps not so great as one might have thought), between the State Opera orchestra, and the BPO in the Mendelssohn.  Sharp ears will notice that the hall acoustic changes quite a bit for the second side of the Mendelssohn (at the 4:08 mark), which was recorded a year after the first.

Thanks to Mike Gartz for the use of his very rare source material, including this very fine laminated Brunswick pressing of the Schumann 2nd Symphony!

Schumann: Symphony No. 1 in Bb, Op. 38
Berlin State Opera Orchestra
Polydor 69795-98 (matr. 2013-16as, 2038-41as)
Recorded October, 1925

Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C, Op 61
Berlin State Opera Orchestra
Polydor 66873-7 (matr. 1464-68bmi, 827bi, 1470-72bmi, 1626bmi)
Recorded 1928 & 1929 (sides 6 & 10 only)

Mendelssohn:  Hebrides Overture
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Polydor 95372 (matr. 919bm, 929bii)
Recorded 1928 & 1929

 

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24 Responses to Hans Pfitzner as conductor. Schumann Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture

  1. Buster says:

    Great post – welcome back. Always interested in what you have to offer!

  2. Paul says:

    A fascinating issue, as ever, Neal. I’m looking forward to this with great anticipation.

    The story about the opening bars of the 1st Symphony, as recounted by Anthony Hopkins (the music broadcaster, not the actor), goes like this. Schumann intended the phrase on the brass to be B flat, G, A, B flat, which is how the Allegro theme starts on the strings, but at the first rehearsal (Leipzig Gewandhaus, Mendelssohn conducting), the brass couldn’t play it, being restricted to the harmonic series, so Mendelssohn suggested starting on the D a third higher. If this anecdote is true, then Pfitzner is restoring Schumann’s orginal. Like you, I’ve never heard any other conductor do this.

    • David Harrison says:

      The lower pitched brass fanfare was also recorded by Josef Krips with the LSO in 1958 (?) for Decca. The opening was originally written at the lower pitch – the same pitch of the opening theme of the main allegro—and was for horns. Because it was ineffective or unplayable on the old natural instruments Schumann put it up a third and added trumpets. Krips’s compromise was to return to the score as first written and to keep the trumpets for added brilliance.

      Thanks Neal for another fascinating issue. Is there a small cut in the coda of the finale of the 2nd symphony? Sounds different at about 7.02 mins but haven’t had the time to check.

    • Manny Nadelman says:

      Josef Krips, in his mid-50’s recording of the symphony, recently re-issued, also does this, with the same explanation.

  3. hello!This was a really outstanding blog!
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    Also I obtain much in your blog really thank your very much i will come again

  4. tatifan says:

    Thanks everyone!
    And thanks, Paul, for that anecdote! An old music history professor of mine told the story about the brass having difficulty with the original opening, but I didn’t realize that it would have been this particular variant! It must have been quite deflating for Schumann to stand in front of an orchestra with a new work and have the first notes deemed unplayable! Would you mind if I quoted you in the main body of the post?

    Cheers,

    Neal

    • Paul says:

      Hi Neal.

      No worries about referring to my post, although I can’t cite a reliable source, just my memory of a 30-year-old radio programme! Thanks, David, for that info about the Kripps recording, which I will look up (I don’t have it).

      Paul

  5. Maready says:

    This one should be fascinating. Also, let me add my voice the chorus above of ‘great to see you backs’ — barely a week goes by without my listening to a transfer and finding I’ve marked it ‘From Neal’s’. I look forward with great anticipation to whatever you’ve been cooking up; more often than not, it’s been a musician I haven’t yet encountered (and more often than not, your posts end up by sending me on a shopping spree trying to find more of their recordings 😉

  6. Maready says:

    This one should be fascinating. Also, let me add my voice to the chorus above of ‘great to see you backs’ — barely a week goes by without my listening to a transfer and finding I’ve marked it ‘From Neal’s’. I look forward with great anticipation to whatever you’ve been cooking up; more often than not, it’s been a musician I haven’t yet encountered (and more often than not, your posts end up by sending me on a shopping spree trying to find more of their recordings 😉

  7. Fred says:

    Neal,

    Gotta tell you that the sound quality in the Schumann 2nd blew me away. Simply amazing the level of technical brilliance that the German engineers had in the 20’s.

    Thanks so much,

    Fred

  8. Pablo Varela says:

    Great post! Thank you so much for share those great recordings.
    Pablo.

  9. Bill Anderson says:

    Fantastic! Neal, this is a treat. The Schumann First is amazing, I was unaware even of it’s existence. And the sound you got out of the Brunswick set of the Second – damn!

    I cannot praise your work, or thank you, enough. And please forward my appreciation
    to Mike Gartz for his generosity.

    – Bill

  10. Robert R. Calder says:

    You had me cursing myself! I was looking for some things to help a friend deliver a talk, and I hadn’t marked one item downloaded from you which would have been very useful. On the grounds that I had been too active and was in need of proper soothing and enlivening I proceeded to listen to the item in question (and read replies by others more informed on the topic than I) and eventually here catch up a little with the gratitude you deserve.
    The flow of the Mendelssohn is wonderful, with only the occasional stretch-mark of portamento — when the conductor reads with his ears, the music rises up to be heard when one listens. Now for the Schumann properly. Many thanks again.

  11. tatifan says:

    Thanks for all of the great feedback, everyone!

    Right now I’m on a really wonderful visit to the UK with the Houston Symphony….right now we’re in Edinburgh, ending up this weekend at the Barbican in London. I’ll be back soon!

    • Doug Tabony says:

      You are in the Houston Symphony? If so, you must know my brother Charles Tabony. I was also a violinist in Austin until an accident left me a quadriplegic. Have been collecting old recordings more seriously since.

      I prefer the Barbirolli/Halle Hebrides but this is very fine and well played. Pfirzner is all over the map. This is a pretty quick Hebrides, rather straightforward. His Beethoven 6th, 2nd mvt may be the slowest on record. I’m listening to the 1st mvt of Schumann 1. The feeling is the best for this symphony, usually dull at best. Is this acoustic or just bad early electric? This is as sloppy as I’ve heard this orchestra.

      Thanks for the upload.

      • Emilio says:

        Hi, I am also very fond of these recordings by Pfitzner and the fine transscriptons our blogmaster has made. Just wanted to say that the as-Matrix was an acoustic series of recordings and that the recordings are very late acoustic. There was even an acoustic recording of the second Schuman by Pfitzner on 2200 to 2209 1/2 as on Schallplatte Grammophon 66366 to 66370. This was one of the last acoustic recordings that was made in the as-series, where all kind of classical recordings, but due to repertoire politics formerly mainly vocal recordings appeared. The last in the series that was made as far as we know was 2212 as (Leo Schützendorf: Die Uhr von Loewe, 95000). This must be ca. at the turn of 1925/26.

  12. squirrel says:

    WOW!

    I know the Schumann “Spring” Fanfare story from a conducting teacher who studied with Richard Lert of the Berlin Staatsoper – the gist of it is conveyed in the comments above.

    Thank you, Neal!

  13. Bryan Bishop says:

    Hey Neal, I just discovered this – thanks so much! I really must check your website more often!

  14. squirrel says:

    Mr Neal,
    Wanted you to have the heads-up that I added some Leitner rips at my site. I think you’ll be interested in the Mozart album.
    http://squirrelnyc.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/ferdinand-leitner-on-dgg/
    Also, I recently redesigned my site… and had to chuckle when I clicked back over to yours and realized the new theme I had selected is the same one you use on your site! I hope you’ll agree that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
    Cheers,
    S.

  15. Albert says:

    Thank you, Neal, for posting these magnificent recordings for all of us to enjoy. I know how much work is involved (not to mention a certain amount of frustration) and that no one except a true enthusiast would undertake it. I do trust that you will find your new ‘home’ at WordPress agreeable, and that you will not find it necessary to resort to the colourful language that I find myself using sometimes, when the HMTL (or is it HTML? I can never remember) editor behaves badly. I do like the look of your blog and I scrolled down to find the theme name (I was thinking of adopting it myself), but I don’t see one, so it must be your own. Jolly good! I am delighted that you are doing your new postings with FLAC files, which I am a great devotee of. There is one suggestion/plea I would make; please include scans of the disc labels with the files. Yes, I know its a bit cheeky of me to ask. I say, this comment is much too long, so please edit ruthlessly. Best regards.

  16. tatifan says:

    I wish I could scan all of the labels! When I’m working from my own sources, I try to scan all of this, but when I’m doing dubs from copies owned by friends I can’t presume to ask TOO much in this area. The scanner that the owner of these records has would only yield good label scans if the records were broken in two parts, unfortunately, as the sides are slightly raised!

  17. Steve Kostelecky says:

    Just want to say I am ecstatic to find this page. I began to think I was part of a very small minority who loves historical recordings. Thanks so much for sharing your collection and your intelligent commentary.
    Best,
    Steve

  18. Abersnecky says:

    Pfitzner does something similar with the trio of Beethoven’s 8th Symphony. Tovey tells a story that Beethoven wanted to keep the opening bar rhythm throughout the horn theme, having decided that reversing it in the third bar was unsatisfactory, but – this must have been after circulating the parts – decided he couldn’t, as rewriting the accompaniment would cause too much hassle. Pfitzner’s recording does what Beethoven is said to have wanted to do and rewrites the cello parts into the bargain.

  19. woytek says:

    Fantastic post! Any chance for more Pfitzner transfers?

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