Pruewer: The Forgotten Maestro: Orchestral Recordings from 1928 – 1933, works by Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Brahms, Berlioz, Thomas, Rubinstein, Vladigerov (complete listing below) – Pristine Audio PASC 674 (2CDs: 2:29:07) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Virtually an exact contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Austrian conductor Julius Prüwer (1874-1943) receives from Restoration Engineer and Producer Mark Obert-Thorn a major recorded revival from the Polydor and Kristall labels, 1928-1933, likely the first of its kind. In his accompanying note to the release, Obert-Thorn details the conductor’s direct link to composer Johannes Brahms, an association he shared with Felix Weingartner and Max Fiedler. Pruewer studied with and later assisted master conductor Hans Richter in Bayreuth. While Wilhelm Furtwaengler assumed the directorship of the Berlin Philharmonic’s main concert series, Prüwer became the permanent conductor of the orchestra’s popular-concert series, a post he occupied until the 1933 dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. As a potential victim of racial persecution, Prüwer, a Jew, fled Europe in 1939 to America, settling in New York City to teach at the New York College of Music. While in Berlin during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Prüwer’s notable students included Ferdinand Leitner, Franz Allers, and Antonia Brico.
With the first two entries in the selected program, the Beethoven Egmont Overture (1929) and the Schubert Unfinished Symphony (1928), we feel the hovering influence of Wilhelm Furtwaengler, with broad, epic tempos and darkly dramatic hues, the colors spaced by careful application of tempo rubato. The attention to interior orchestral detail shines through; and the sudden bursts in the Schubert second movement, Andante con moto, equal the potent, impulsive energies we associate with peers Oscar Fried and Albert Coates. No less authoritative, the Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture (1928) enjoys a delicious lyricism, coupled with a marked flexibility in the pulsation, culminating in a crystalline fugato in the course of the music’s depiction of the Scottish seascape. From the opening A sounded at the inset of Wagner’s 1840 Rienzi Overture (1929), we remain in the throes of a focused, driven account of the drama about to unfold concerning Rome’s ill-fated tribune.
The 1880 Brahms Academic Festival Overture, written in gratitude to the University of Breslau for an honorary degree, projects healthy, sturdy energy reminiscent of both Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer in this 1928 reading. Muscular girth and frothy, rambunctious humor infiltrate the musical periods, culminating in outbursts in G and C Major, most notably with the Gaudeamus igitur of college days. The Hungarian Dances from the same year, move in frisky, gypsy style, the G Minor certainly a match for Chaplin’s shave in The Great Dictator. The tugs and pulls at the meter confirm this conductor’s innate sympathy for the Austro-Hungarian ethos on which this music depends. The D Major enjoys the kind of schwung that verges on syrup but without spilling over. An equally potent, “ethnic” moment occurs in the 1928 rendition of the perennial waltz favorite, the Strauss Tales from the Vienna Woods, replete with zither solo, courtesy of Ernst Rommel. Here, Prüwer competes most stylishly with the likes of Erich Kleiber and Clemens Krauss in conveying inflected, old-world charm and sashayed grace to the ballroom.
Prüwer demonstrates his versatile finesse in two French works: the first, from Berlioz in 1928 delivers a brilliant display of shifting energies in Benvenuto Cellini – Overture, in which Prüwer elicits from the Berlin Philharmonic an electrifying response that has few rivals, on a par with contemporary Hamilton Harty and the next generation master of the idiom, Charles Munch. The 1851 Overture to Raymond (rec. 14 January 1929), by Thomas, bears the good reputation for an opera otherwise a failure, its plot having been a derivative of The Man in the Iron Mask. The BPO woodwind work, aided by alert strings, sets up a finely graduated, dramatic scene that breaks into a manic gallop for its rousing, final three minutes. The BPO brass, timpani and battery section make their fanfare contribution, while the string entertain us with an ardent melody, the very stuff of Sunday matinee bandmasters and Prüwer’s popular classics contribution to Berlin concert life.
The transition to a pair of Italian selection begins with the 1840 Overture (rec. 1928) to Gaetano Donizetti’s opera comique, The Daughter of the Regiment. This music, too, combines, lyric and spry elements, especially demanding of virtuoso string work from the ensemble. The combination of woodwind and snare drum effects enjoys an easy, fluent line, much in the mode of Rossini’s patented crescendos and rousing rhythmic bouts of martial intensity. The 1875 Ballet égyptien (rec. February 1933, for the Krystall label) of Alexandre Luigini represents his singular success in the concert hall; even so, of its eight movements, only the first suite of four receive consistent attention. The second movement Allegretto carries a delicate charm close to Delibes in spirit. Verdi though enough of the music to include it in Act II of an Aida production in 1886. The final movement, Andante espessivo, most clearly exudes the exotic element that Verdi and perhaps Bizet find comfortable.
The last two works derive from Russia: Anton Rubinstein’s suite for piano, four hands, Bal Costumé, includes as its seventh piece, the Toreador et Andalouse, a gentle jota that sways in easy virtue in this recording from 14 January 1929. Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978) serves his country much as Dvorak and Smetana represent some of the best in Czech music. His substantial Bulgarian Suite (rec. 1929) makes a strong case for his music’s accessibility, given its natural sense of local, Slavic color and vibrant orchestration. The second movement Lied (or Aria) conveys a strong sense of romance. The last two movements, Kettentanz and Ratschenitza, indulge even more in feisty rhythms and percussion, much akin to the color elements in Georges Enescu.
As a resurrection tribute to a neglected conductor, this set proves indispensable.
Prüwer: The Forgotten Maestro:
BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op. 84a;
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”;
MENDELSSOHN: The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26;
WAGNER: Rienzi Overture;
BRAHMS: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80; Hungarian Dances: No 5 in G Minor; No. 6 in D Major;
J. STRAUSS II1: Tales from the Vienna Woods, Op. 325;
BERLIOZ: Benvenuto Cellini Overture, Op. 23;
THOMAS: Raymond – Overture;
DONIZETTI: The Daughter of the Regiment – Overture; 3
LUIGINI: Ballet égyptien, Op. 12;
RUBINSTEIN: Toreador at Andalouse, Op. 103/7; 2
VLADIGEROV: Bulgarian Suite, Op. 21 –
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra;
1Berlin-Charlottenburg Opera Orchestra;
2Berlin State Opera Orchestral
Julius Pruewer, cond.