DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major; FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor — Bamberg Symphony/Fritz Lehmann — DGG

by | Aug 29, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88; FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor — Bamberg Symphony/Fritz Lehmann

DGG 00289 477 5481 mono, 71:12 (Distrib. Universal)***:

I am glad to see (and hear) more materials from DGG devoted the
under-rated conductor Fritz Lehman (1900-1955), whose extensive work in
choral music, and especially Bach cantatas, gave him a strong
sensibility for the vocalization of instrumental ensemble as well. I
fondly recall awakening as a youth to WNYC’s Saturday Masterwork Hour
at 9 AM to hear, fairly consistently, the Andor Foldes/Fritz Lehmann
collaboration in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy — the inscription of which
I would like to own on CD. Lehmann’s reading of the Brahms Tragic
Overture with the Berlin Philharmonic, like that of his Brahms Requiem,
favored slow and evolving tempos, savoring the dark color mix; the
performance, on a scratchy American Decca pressing, complemented an
equally robust F Major Symphony by the BPO under Eugen Jochum.

The Dvorak G Major Symphony dates from early March 1953.  It is a
“soft” reading, meaning Lehmann plays the symphony for graceful
lyricism and charm, with little of the febrile energy Talich and
Beecham squeezed from the outer movements. The transparency of line and
the ease of transition, without the volcanic aspects that Dvorak
occasionally hurls at us, reminds me much of Antal Dorati’s reading for
Mercury from the early 1960s. Perhaps Bruno Walter’s affectionate
readings of this score were an influence. The French horn work in this
performance is outstanding; and in the martial episodes of the last
movement, flute and trumpets prove themselves noteworthy. The final
coda suddenly pumps up the adrenelin, and we wonder why the conductor
waited so long. I am reminded, however, that my first Lehmann LP was in
fact a persuasive all-Dvorak program which included the E Major
Serenade and two of the Op. 45 Slavonic Rhapsodies.

The Franck Symphony from late February to early March 1954 has more of
the cosmic drama we seek in fulfilling realizations of this
too-four-square music. There is great tension in Lehmann’s opening,
with strings and slightly discordant horns and contrabassoon clashing,
a kind of Mengelberg-like freedom in the rhythm. Lehmann wants to
negotiate a delicate balance between athletic power and German
mysticism; the result is an amalgam of color details and occasionally
glib phrasing, but executed with tonal flexibility and homogeneity. The
performance is less otherworldly than Furtwaengler’s but more
intellectually driven than Ormandy’s. The Allegretto is quite delicate,
the oboe and flute parts sweetly molded. The Bamberg strings can be
translucent, especially in the last movement with its harp effects. The
serviceable mono sound is going to keep audiophiles away, but
collectors of strong, thoughtful musicians will want to keep an ear out
for more of Lehmann’s work, particularly in Mozart.

–Gary Lemco

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