Max Fiedler: German Radio Recordings, Vol. 2 – Pristine

by | Jan 31, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Max Fiedler: German Radio Recordings, Vol. 2 = HAYDN: Symphony No. 88 in G Major; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “Great”; BRAHMS: Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102; Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 – Alfred Hoehn, piano/ Carl Steiner, violin/ Adolf Steiner, cello/ Orchester der Reichsenders Berlin/ Max Fielder – Pristine Audio PASC 582 (2 CDs) 63:10; 64:59 [] ****

Producer and Recording Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn extends the recorded legacy of German conductor Max Fiedler (1859-1939), noted primarily for his comprehensive assimilation of the Brahms style, documented in his few recordings. Fielder’s work complements that of the period conductors – Bulow, Nikisch, Steinbach – who left few or no recordings to posterity, so we must assume that whatever stylistic licenses or rhetorical strategies Fiedler employs – perhaps most given in extremis a la Mengelberg –  typify the tradition that encouraged this style of interpretation. As a conductor of his own music, Brahms became noted and notorious for tempo changes, shifts in rhythm and dynamics, and for simply demanding an emotional commitment from orchestral players they were wont to deny.

Even without the opening Adagio of the opening movement of Haydn’s spry Symphony No. 88 in G Major (28 April 1936), the surviving Allegro moves with buoyant verve, a literal forwardness that we find in the Steinbach “school” of interpreters, like Boult and Toscanini.  The bass lines and woodwind complement to the ongoing rhythmic tattoo retain a rich energy. The D Major slow movement, Largo, may have an influence in Mozart’s Linz Symphony, with the inclusion of trumpets and tympani.  Fiedler molds the procession with intense care, from the opening oboe to the long-spun melody and its late, martial expression.  The G Major Menuetto hurtles forward with a zest whose effect hinges on that marvelous tympani part. The violas and bassoon shift down from their held fifths to parallel fourths in a manner most rustic.  The Finale combines rondo and sonata-form ingeniously, a perpetuum mobile lighthearted and thoroughly infectious.  The finely honed textural variants shine forth in this seamless transfer, reminding us that Fiedler’s gifts extend well beyond his stereotypical Brahms.

The Schubert Ninth (28 April 1936) picks up at the Allegro non troppo of movement one, again a literalist reading whose melodic character reigns while the more intrusive, discordant elements of the music move by without the ferocity that Mengelberg, say, allots them.  The trumpet work shines here, as do the Berlin bass fiddles. The coda, however, bears the marks of the 19th Century style, rich with dramatic pauses.  The A minor Andante con moto, whose most expansive incarnation belongs to Wilhelm Furtwaengler and the Berlin Philharmonic, has a lusty competitor here in Fiedler, whose ensemble responds with equally plaintive gravitas.  A warm transition takes us to F Major and later to A Major. French horn and strings accomplish some truly aerial ensemble in diaphanous tones. The trumpet work late in the movement achieves a blazing illumination, which then yields to the secondary, sweet tune, here in a most Viennese incarnation. We might wish the oboe and flute had closer microphone placement. But the leisurely suasion of the concluding pages convinces us that Schubert, too, belongs in the Fiedler pantheon.

The Scherzo, wrought in sonata-form, emerges with robust gusto, the flutes and tympani in healthy throttle.  Between the bucolic winds and the passing waltz rhythms, we find ourselves in a magical land far from the concerns of other mortals. The Allegro vivace finale, alternating a dotted motif against an ostinato triplet energy, enjoys a momentum all its own.  Fiedler whips up quite the ride, resonant and pulsating in the various choirs, particularly his muscular strings, brass and tympani. The unison horns inject a martial idea on four notes that soon assumes rhythmic and affective permutations. The original, dotted motif returns with a vehement brio in E-flat Major. The entries become slashing and acerbic, punctuated by inflamed trumpets and tympani. The oboe, too, wends its own magic. Fiedler controls the extended cods with graduated dynamics and tremolos, relentless in their telos.  The last bars radiate a marvelous, jubilant C Major to which the audience responds with now-immortalized appreciation.

Obert-Thorn characterizes the preserved moments of the Brahms Double Concerto in A minor (3 April 1936) as “more a case of fragments than even a torso.” The two soli participate in a glowing, richly considered dialogue, what Obert-Thorn terms “a story of storm-tossed lovers.” As soon as we have become mesmerized, however, the performance loses the exposition and proceeds into the canonic section of the development, marked by the lyric affetuoso of the duo.  The recapitulation proceeds, marcato, with a stress on the plastic alternation of the figures in small intervals. Violinist Steiner certainly projects a sincere intimacy rare in this music. If ever a performance captures the “reconciliation” aspect of this music as it served Brahms and Joachim, the coda of this movement achieves it. The three minutes that exist of the Andante confirm the dreamy, romantic haze established between all participants, rife with breathed, vocal phrases that pour out Old World sentiment.

The soloist for the D minor Concerto (28 October 1936), Alfred Hoehn (1887-1945), enjoys a repute somewhat in parallel with Edward Erdmann, as a scholar-pianist rather than as a pure virtuoso; and this, despite having “defeated” Artur Rubinstein in the 1910 Anton Rubinstein Competition in Russia. The extremely broad tempo for the Maestoso first movement seems to “forgive” or legitimate the excess that Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein perpetrated in New York years later.  Both Hoehn and Fiedler knew Fritz Steinbach and the Brahms tradition he embodied. Every phrase from Hoehn, whatever its length and melodic extension, bears a palpable architecture. His singular control of dynamics finds power in the most wistful pianissimos, but he can leverage a mighty forte, especially in the sudden eruption of the music, first in storm, then in ghostly waltz. Fiedler has his horns insist upon the “fate” motif while Hoehn tries to find solace in the sweet eddies of sound bearing meditative reflection. The last chord of the coda resounds until Doomsday!

Brahms set rather mystical inscription before the second movement as a “requiem” for Robert Schumann or a loving portrait of Clara Schumann. Hoehn and Fiedler underplay the music, opting for intimacy over drama or glamour, and the effect makes for haunted poetry. The last pages gather a kind of grim processional, a sweeping vision of Calvary. Hoehn’s keyboard whispers the last pages with a sound perhaps more appropriate for diaphanous Debussy. The tiger in Hoehn re-emerges for the Rondo: Allegro non troppo, with a fury of which we might not hear the like until William Kapell strode on the New York Philharmonic stage with Dimitri Mitropoulos. Thunder and cannons in the orchestra, a dazzling Aeolian harp in the keyboard. Fiedler does indulge in some lavish portamento to sweeten the mix, but the integrity of the Brahms style endures, as even the fugato enjoys a serenade’s sensibility. When Hoehn plays risoluto, hang tightly to your hat, and his brief cadenza can only suggest what his Bach might have contained. A series of spectacular runs from Hoehn and a relentless string line from Fiedler mount to a grand peroration, virtually a manic ride to the arch of triumph.

—Gary Lemco

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