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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Overture to Der fliegende Holländer [11:41]
Siegfried-Idyll [17:52]
Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt [9:41]
Funeral music from Götterdämmerung [6:29]
Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde [17:35]
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI (1-3,5)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI (4)
Wilhelm Furtwängler
Rec. June 6, 1952 (1-3); May 31, 1952 (4); March 11, 1952 (5), RAI studios. ADD
WARNER FONIT CETRA 5050466-2965-2-8 [69:37]

In 1952, the great German maestro Wilhelm Furtwängler was contracted by the Italian Radio to conduct and record eight concerts in Rome and Turin. These concerts were the first steps in a grand plan laid out by the director of the Italian Radio. This was despite the widespread view that the orchestras in question, especially that of Turin, were not up to the task of meeting the musical demands of so famous a conductor. Here after all was a conductor who was accustomed to working with such top-flight orchestras as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics.

Whether they were up to the task seems moot now, as one need only listen to these performances to see that Furtwängler was quite capable of making any orchestra overcome its perceived weaknesses.

Most remarkable about every selection here is the fine sense of pacing and dramatic ebb and flow that were hallmarks of this conductor. Even with orchestras that were somewhat below standard, and with whom he had never worked, Furtwängler was able to set the exact amount of speed, rubato and forward motion that make these recordings seem "just right". This communicates to the listener despite sound quality that is not superb; not even for its day.

The contrasts are right-on too, for example, the lovely Siegfried-Idyll contains the perfect mix of joy and tenderness. Opening with the Flying Dutchman overture, a work that was later to inspire countless film composers, we get off to a rollicking start to a swashbuckling reading. The funeral music from Götterdämmerung is ripe with gravitas, but never gets bogged down in melodramatic displays. Finally, the sweep and grandeur of the Liebestod is nearly breathtaking.

What is to be lamented about this release are the production values. The notes are pitifully translated. This is not idiomatic English. Funnier still is the backward-printed photograph on page 11, showing the right-handed Furtwängler conducting with his left hand, and the entire violin section bowing with their left arms! Regrettably, this sort of thing happens constantly in classical releases.

If you can tolerate the production values, these are great performances by a master musician in respectable sound for their age. The music is recommended.

Kevin Sutton


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