Saturday, 25 January 2014

'Dwarfish, sharp-tounged, conservative, and not a little paranoide...'

Robert Schumann
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 140

1. Andante con moto - Allegro di molto (D minor)
2. Romanza: Andante (A minor)
4. Largo - Finale: Allegro vivace (D major)

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Hans Pfitzner

Polydor 69625, 69627 &  69627 
(1406as, 1407as, 1408as, 234az, 232az & 233az)
(recorded October-December 1923)

1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [about 62Mb]
1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [about 115Mb] - with Spatial Enhancer [see below]

Being a bit tardy in stuffing things on my blog, will try and be a bit more 'proactive'

Anyway my quote continues '... Hans Pfitzner was perhaps his own worst enemy. But his pronouncements have been misread and his intentions misconstrued, and certain aspects of his life have been held against him, so that thirty-five years after his death he remains an unjustly neglected figure.' Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers 1985.

As a conductor Pfitzner made a good number of recordings for Deutsche Grammophon in the 1920s and '30s and as he was responsible for dragging Schumann out of oblivion, into which he was falling at that time, it is not surprising and appropriate that he was chosen to conduct the only acoustic recordings of any Schumann Symphonies. Nos. 1 & 2 where recorded in 1925 and 1926 with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra however No. 4 was the first to be recorded at the end of 1923 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Unfortunately the Scherzo was not issued with the set and I have some reason to believe it was recorded for matrix 1409as is otherwise unallocated to any other recording. Issuing a 7 sided set (plus a filler for the 8th side) of an unpopular symphony in the middle of an epic hyper inflationary period may have been thought as too risky for DG/Polydor so the Scherzo may have thus dropped.   Compton Mackenzie review in The Gramophone for October 1925 of the first Polydor recordings to be available in Britain gives a quick notice 'The Fourth Symphony of Schumann is the only Schumann symphony on the gramophone, and the Polydor version of it may be recommended as a good workmanlike production. Unfortunately, the scherzo has been omitted, so that the symphony is not complete.' The fact that the recording was issued once electrical recordings had already got underway may have stifled sales under the Polydor label. At any rate it seems uncommon and I have never seen it issued anywhere.

Anyway rather than me gassing on about the relative merits of this or that performance I defer to Peter Guttman who has reviewed a great number of recordings of this symphony at his website Classical Notes including the electrically recorded remake by Pfitzner issued in 1928.

As with the majority of acoustic orchestral recordings several things are immediately noticeable, firstly the reduced number of players, maybe only six first and second violins,  brass substituting for the lower strings, also placement of various instruments near to the horn for particular passages all don't help with the balance. The Danish violinist Henry Holst (1899-1991) is very likely the leader of the orchestra in this performance and he can be best heard playing in the trio section of the Romanza. It would be nice to know who the other players are in these recordings and also something of their careers.

I have joined the movements into one track to give some idea of a continuum as Schumann intended, this means that we jump from the second to the fourth movements which might give you a bit of a jolt.

*Spacial Enhancer - The blurb say that  'SHEPPi (Stereo Haas Effect Ping Pong Inverter) is a stereo image enhancement tool modeled after the K-Stereo Ambience Processor by Algorithmix. SHEPPi imparts a subtle, natural sense of space thanks to a combination of EQ'able synthetic early reflections, M-S widening and inverted stereo delay feedback. This plug-in has been enhanced for both track insert as well as aux send applications, making it an excellent tool for both mastering and stereoizing purposes.' 

Oooh it all sounds a bit technical and mucking about with recordings in this way is not seen by some to completely ethical - Still it is worth playing around with as it does indeed help with the separation of the instruments and gives space for the sound.