PEPPING:  Symphony No. 2 in F Minor (rec. Oct. 30, 1943).  HEINZ SCHUBERT:  Hymnisches Konzert for Soloists, Organ and Orchestra (rec. Dec.6, 1942) (with Erna Berger, soprano/Walter Ludwig, tenor)
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Wilhelm Furtw”ngler, cond.
Russian Compact Disc RCD 25016 (F) (ADD) TT:  75:46 (AS OF JULY 2003 THIS CD IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE; THE PEPPING IS AVAILABLE ONLY ON MAESTRO HISTORY)

The fascination of this disc has nothing to do with the music on it. Ernst Pepping lived from 1901 to 1981, composed mostly bland, neo-Baroque church music in considerable quantity. He was evidently hyped as Paul Hindemith's replacement, who'd been denounced by Joseph Goebbels as a Kulturbolshevik, banned in Third Reich concert halls and on state radio. Yet Hindemith was never imprisoned, and didn't leave Germany until 1938 (wherein lies an interesting story waiting for investigative digging). Meanwhile, Werner Andreas Albert is in the process of conducting all of Pepping's orchestral music on CPO. One can hardly wait. Grove V (published in 1954 but for my money the last really valuable edition overall) had a sizeable entry that listed Symphony No. 2 as a work from 1943. This performance, recorded "live"” on October 30 of that year, was probably the world premiere.

As for Heinz Schubert, born in 1908 but dead in 1945, neither reference books nor the internet produced anything about him—only thousands of entries on that other Schubert, the immortal Franz. From the evidence of Heinz's "Hymnal Concerto" for soprano, tenor, organ soloist and orchestra, he too was a Back-to-Bach composer, albeit infected by French impressionism. It is a bizarre piece structurally as well as stylistically that goes in one ear and out the other with nary a note, much less a chord or theme, recollected 10 seconds later. What the soloists sing is not printed in the program book, much less translated; just a panygeric about Furtw”ngler in four languages - English, German, French and Cyrillic Russian, in that order.

Like Pepping's symphony, the other Schubert's piece received a committed performance on December 6, 1942, from Furtw”ngler and his storied orchestra (by that time minus, of course, all Jewish players). The celebrated coloratura Erna Berger, already 43, had to sing most of her ungrateful part in a forwardly-placed middle voice, meaning the wrong Fach and mostly unpleasant. Walter Ludwig was a favorite German tenor of the period (Nikolai's "H–rch, h–rch, die Lerche" from Die Lustige Witwe von Windsor was an ardently beautiful recording on a postwar DGG 10"-LP), but he also had an ungrateful solo part in this wrong-Schubert farrago.

So why bother about a parochial pair of pieces? The archive that yielded them up has been the subject of speculation for decades, and here is documentation that indeed it exists. Not only that, transfers are amazing, given the screechy, nasal sound of the same orchestra in the same venue during the same period on many of DGG "live performance" releases since the 1950s. Let me add, however, that the Pepping Symphony is in Schwann/Opus on the Italian Grammofono 2000 label, distributed stateside by Allegro, although I've not seen it in a store or heard it broadcast. Quality remains a question-mark, but not a 1942 misattribution. One must be super-careful about Italian masterings and remasterings of anything, source and vintage irrespective.

RCD has transferred these recordings "using sound restoration system"...(then six Cyrillic letters that Russian friends with a big-Mac were unable to download from Word Perfect 8). Whatever it means, the sound is amazingly clean without distortion (although predictably compressed; sources after all were 60-year-old broadcast tapes) and without audience noises! The program book lists 15 earlier releases with "soloists, Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, recorded in 1942-45"—all under Furtw”ngler's direction. Archivists, on your mark, ready, GO!

R.D. (April 2001)