Classical Reissue Reviews
Alfred Hertz and The San Francisco Sym.: Complete Recordings, Vol. I = BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 in C; SCHUBERT: Rosamunde: Entr’acte; Marche Militaire; WEBER: Der Freischuetz Overture; MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Sel. – Pristine Audio
Published on June 2, 2009
Alfred Hertz and The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra: Complete Recordings, Vol. I = BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 in C, Op. 72c; SCHUBERT: Rosamunde: Entr’acte; Marche Militaire; WEBER: Der Freischuetz Overture; MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture, Scherzo, Nocturne, Wedding March – San Francisco Symphony/Alfred Hertz
Pristine Audio PASC163, 58:59 (avail. as downloads or various CD-R options) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Alfred Hertz (1872-1942) led the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from 1915–just four years after its inception–to 1930, having begun to record electrically with the orchestra repertory that well competed with Hertz’s European colleagues Toscanini, Furtwaengler, and Weingartner. Producer Mark Obert-Thorn gives us eight cuts from the 1927-1928 sessions that display the high polish Hertz had achieved with his ensemble, given his penchant for some Romantic, rhetorical devices in matters in portamento and rubato. One of the more potent offerings, his Der Freischuetz Overture (13, 15 April 1927), easily conforms to the German tradition we hear in Furtwaengler, with broad tempos, plastic rhythms, and solid, dramatic pauses. The two Schubert works (12, 15 April 1927) bustle with verve and pompous wit, especially in the arrangement of the Marche Militaire, clearly indicative of the Sunday afternoon-concert-band variety.
The four Mendelssohn selections form the typical suite from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (11-12, 15 April 1927), the Overture having a deft, clean sound while taken at lightning speed. The strings and contrabassoon stand out clearly, woodwinds and literally percolating with Puck’s good humor. The melodic line moves perhaps too glibly, but the tympanic punctuations and rockets to Bottom’s brays prove convincing, humorous, and almost stinging in their accuracy of attack. Breathless at times, the running figures testify to a brilliantly coordinated ensemble, worthy of Toscanini’s imprimatur. The acoustic of the Columbia Theatre in San Francisco, the locale for the Weber, Schubert, and the Mendelssohn, proves resonance – now the pitch definition from the old recordings sparkles.
Flute and ensemble grant us a bravura Scherzo, which sprints and trips with elfin virtuosity. Who knows, that Rachmaninov might have had this realization (issued as RCA M-18) in mind as bearing the most similarity to the tempo of piano transcription? Leisurely tempos and sustained tonal accuracy marks the Nocturne, the strings’ fairy dust easily evocative of Titania and Oberon in secret convocation. The Wedding March certainly proclaims the SFO brass section worthy of Mendelssohn, and Wagner must only be the conductor’s nod away. Fine drive and tension maintain the nuptial motion of the piece in its secondary theme; then the strings sing in high style with the syncopated woodwinds.
The opening piece, Beethoven’s ubiquitous Leonore Overture No. 3 (20-21, 28 February 1928), was recorded in Oakland’s Scottish Rite Temple. The slow introduction enjoys a studied pace, the winds and horns carefully balanced against strings that ebb and flow in an aura of political tension. The transition to the flute and then dramatic tutti explosion mounts effectively, no drag, no mannerism. The bass line firmly undergirds the flute line, and we move to the full statement of the ‘Fidelio’ motif. While some old-fashioned rhetoric infiltrates the string line, the musical pulse and horn work remains taut, the sentiment noble without affectation. The sonata-form working-out of the various themes proceeds efficiently, lyrically, without any taint of the academic, and we rocket and roll to the trumpet calls for freedom. He flute solo deftly dialogues with the bassoon, and we enter that magnificent gloom whose ink only Beethoven can break with lightning bolts. The last pages confirm our impression of Alfred Hertz as a musician of exciting power and refinement, whose further work we await with no small anticipation.