Fritz Lehmann, Vol. 2 = BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme by Haydn; FRANCK: Redemption–Morceau symphonique; SIBELIUS: Night Ride and Sunrise; WOLF: Italian Serenade; WEBER: Preziosa Ov.; SUPPE: Light Cavalry Ov. – various orch. – Historic-Recordings

by | Jul 15, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Fritz Lehmann, Vol. 2 = BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a; FRANCK: Redemption–Morceau symphonique; SIBELIUS: Night Ride and Sunrise, Op. 55; WOLF: Italian Serenade; WEBER: Preziosa Overture; SUPPE: Light Cavalry Overture – Brussels Radio Orchestra (Franck)/German Opera House Orchestra, Berlin/Fritz Lehmann

Historic-Recordings HRCD 00044, 64:50 [] ****:

There appears to be some interest in reviving the legacy of Mannheim-born conductor Fritz Lehmann (1904-1956), if this second volume from Historic-Recordings and the recent Music & Arts St. John Passion are any indication. I assume that Neal Kurz did the transfers on the present disc, taken primarily from Odeon shellacs, 1940-1942. Rather a literalist interpreter, Lehmann eschewed romantic indulgences and later became noted for his specialty in Baroque performance.

The opening 1856 Haydn Variations indicates no specific date, but they sound resonant and clear, given the period just prior to WW II. The tempos move fleetly, no dawdling, though the slower variants and the famed siciliana enjoy a plastic cantilena. The aggressive variations move with breathless militant authority, the string and brass work pointed in attacks and clean in the cadence-landings. The Presto non troppo variant moves with mazy motion over several octaves in its segue to the finale, an academically-learned passacaglia in seventeen variations that culminates in a triumphant coda. Lehmann rather understates the procession, insisting on muted colors in the woodwinds and a tempered and articulate ostinato in the bass parts, the strings and horns. The high registers ultimately win, and the St. Antoni Chorale rings forth with righteous exuberance at the last bars.  

The Franck symphonic fragment Redemption (15 April 1942) recorded at the Palais de Beaux Arts, Brussels, derives from occupied Belgium, so its “political” status remains dubious, but the piece evolves sympathetically. Toscanini favored this curio as well, which reveals some dark polyphony in its progress towards the light. The piece (1873) did poorly as set originally and did not make a real mark until 1896, after Franck’s death. The oratorio rarely receives a full performance–its pietistic sentimentality a good reason to avoid it–but this symphonic intermezzo demonstrates Franck’s color sense with vigor and passion. The horn parts echo somewhat of Wagner, but that may not be adverse criticism.

The Sibelius1908 tone-poem Night Ride and Sunrise (rec. 14 April 1941) as inscribed by Lehmann may be one of its earliest inscriptions; I knew few recordings prior to that of Adrian Boult and the LPO in the mid 1950s. The moody Northern piece, set in three parts, describes a “dogged gallop” in ostinato strings, a minimalist bird call transition, and a towering vision of Northern beauty in pantheistic Technicolor. The frigid hues of the opening–and its eerie central section–and the eventual rise to glory may place the piece within the emotional environs of both the Second and Sixth Symphonies, but the harmonies look more to Nielsen and modal expression than traditional chromatic formulas. The Lehmann reading from Berlin  compels and arrests us at once, a revelation on its own concentrated terms.

The 1887 (orch. 1892) Italian Serenade in G Major by Hugo Wolf takes us to southern climes, a charming antidote to the composer’s hyper-Wagnerian chromatic harmonies. Lehmann (rec. 14 April 1941) enjoys the flute and wind vibrations, and violist Rudolf Nel adds his contribution as the wandering minstrel of the supposed “program.” Nel’s colloquy with the flute and shimmering strings makes us wonder to what degree this transparent piece remained the envy of another violist-composer, Paul Hindemith. Weber’s Preziosa Overture, Op. 78 (rec. 21 June 1941) illustrates the composer’s typical flair for orchestral effects, infectious melodies, and pounding rhythms, all in a brew quite in character with Rossini and the very model for Suppe and Johann Strauss. Strings, winds, and horns work together under Lehmann to canter and march in a light lithe spirit.  Almost a direct descendant comes Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture (1 April 1940) actually precedes an opera of 1866, the music imitates in slow tempo the Hungarian czardas and then a military campaign in gorgeous colors. Likely, none will ever surpass Herbert von Karajan’s brilliant inscription for DGG, but Lehmann and his merry band do justice to this bravura work, an eternal crowd-pleaser at the park or concert hall.

— Gary Lemco

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