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
in 1956. So, to take Magdalen’s raison
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
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 Still, this is no withdrawn or pallid reading;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.
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.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven