14th May 1953 Furtwängler, exasperated by the producer’s
demands for more and more takes during sessions for Schumann’s
Fourth Symphony, announced that he and the orchestra would play
the whole work through once, and the producer could take
it or leave it. He took it, and the result has been an inspiration
ever since, one of the most enthralling re-creations of a piece
of music ever committed to disc. Indeed, its influence can be
positively insidious, for once heard, it is difficult to imagine
the work any other way; the recent recording by Christian Thielemann
showed what a danger this can be for other conductors.
question is, did Furtwängler himself always conduct it in
this way? For those of us who love the studio recording, the chance
to hear a live performance given a couple of years before is irresistible
and the answer is, yes, he conducted it in exactly the same way,
the same rubatos, the same spurts of impetuosity, even the orchestral
imprecisions are exactly the same and in the same places. As you
can see, I’m suspicious and, having compared the two first movements
closely in short stretches, I’m prepared to wager that this is
the 1953 studio recording in a transfer so dull as to reduce much
of the impact of the performance. There is, by the way, no evidence
of an audience present, and we know from real live recordings
what state the Berliners’ lungs were likely to be in by mid-March.
should add that no discography of Furtwängler that I’ve been
able to consult reports the existence of this performance (while
some Furtwängler performances known to exist – and listed
in the discographies - are still unissued and in private hands,
the chances of something new from 1951 surfacing now are remote).
They do, however, reveal that a performance from later in 1953
with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra has had a limited circulation,
so the question, "did he always conduct it this way?"
may yet receive an official answer.
1953, when the Furtwängler cult was getting into its stride,
Decca issued on two LPs a complete concert given by the Vienna
Philharmonic under Furtwängler on 29th October
1951 in Munich. The programme consisted of Beethoven’s Coriolan
Overture, Schumann’s First Symphony and Bruckner’s 4th
in a very strange edition (more recently, this concert has been
issued by Orfeo). The Furtwängler/Schumann repertoire is
not exactly large (these two symphonies, Manfred Overture, the
piano and cello concertos and that’s it) so here, too, we can
only welcome the opportunity to hear him perform the First Symphony
with a different orchestra, in a different city, but on the same
date. Well now, I’m suspicious again. Furtwängler was a remarkable
chap, but I don’t believe that even he could have given two performances
of the same work, with different orchestras and in different cities,
on the same day. Of course, the performances are the same.
it is the fact that the same date is given which persuades me
that Aura are not deliberately misleading the public (if you’re
going to fake a performance you’d change the date too, wouldn’t
you?) but have rather themselves been misled by a muddle-minded
collector with a cellar full of badly labelled tapes. Still, they
might have checked up a bit more carefully.
are great performances and I hope to discuss them in detail one
day. The present review is merely a warning – keep away! The Fourth,
incidentally, is still in copyright till the end of this year.