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Wilhelm Furtwängler, Conductor - Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Coriolan Overture
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 8 in B minor, ‘Unfinished’
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Oberon Overture
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Three Hungarian Dances
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)

Pizzicato Polka
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Leonora Overture No.3
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Recorded 1944, 1948, 1949, 1950
Produced by Gianni Salioni
ERMITAGE 12054-2 [66:48]

The Ermitage record label have released a CD of six well-known orchestral works from the baton of the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler in recordings of performances with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO).

I am unable to provide the reader with much information about the recording as Ermitages’s presentation on this release is so dire. The annotation is as sparse as I have ever seen on any release and somehow it all seems so disrespectful to the purchaser. The only narrative in the release is a 500 word essay inside the cover by a Piero Rattalino entitled, ‘Listening to Guglielmo’ but exactly what this has to do with a release of Furtwängler works I do not know. The only other information is a list of four different years which I assume are recording dates but infuriatingly they are not linked to any of the six works. Furthermore we are not told which of the three Hungarian Dances are included. To cap the whole episode I was unable to access the Ermitage web address contained on the packaging. I wonder when these record companies will come to learn about product presentation and marketing.

Furtwängler’s two main orchestras were the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1922-45, 1952) and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1922-30). In 1936 he was named as Toscanini’s successor at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra but withdrew after an anti-German campaign. Furtwängler was regularly engaged at Covent Garden, Bayreuth and the Salzburg Festival and also with many other orchestras. With regard to this recording Furtwängler took over from Felix Weingartner for a short but influential stay as the director of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1928 to 1930. However Furtwängler did retained his active association with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1933 to 1938 and 1938 to 1945.

Furtwängler was an exponent of music from a wide range of composers although it is not surprising that his name is associated with the music of particular composers. For example the American music writer and critic Jim Svejda holds the view that, "Wilhelm Furtwängler was undoubtedly the greatest Bruckner interpreter of whom we have an accurate record." For me he has impressive credentials conducting Beethoven and I have particular affection for his cycle of the Beethoven symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra on EMI CHS7 63606-2.

On this release he is equally impressive in his interpretations of Beethoven’s Coriolan and Leonora No.3 overtures. The major work here is Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ in which he gives a characterful performance which I found beautiful and captivating; quite something for a conductor not always noted for his delicacy of touch. This is combined with well played and high-spirited performances of three of the Brahms Hungarian Dances, Weber’s Oberon Overture and Johann Strauss the younger’s Pizzicato Polka. In exceptionally fierce competition from recordings old and new, none of these interpretations comes anywhere near achieving the status of first choice, yet they have a special attraction particularly for their artistic and historic value.

The recorded sound is better than I expected from recordings that we can conclude were made well over fifty years ago, although not surprisingly the sound has lost some of its bloom. What stands out above all else is the wonderfully smooth and controlled string sound from Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, a tradition that the orchestra maintain magnificently today.

Unquestionably a poorly presented release. However a worthwhile document of one of the world’s greatest conductors.

Michael Cookson

Marc Bridle has supplied the following recording dates

Beethoven, Coriolan - 25th Nov 1947 (not 1948 as implied above)
Schubert - Unfinished - 19-21 January 1950
Weber - Oberon - 1st February 1950
Brahms - Hungarian Dances Nos. 1, 3 and 10 - 4th April 1949
Strauss - Polka - 2-3 February 1950
Beethoven - Leonore No.3 - 2nd June 1944

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