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Furtwängler: Great Conductors
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No.5 in C minor Op.67
Wilhelm FURTWÄNGLER (1886-1954)

Symphonic Concerto – Adagio solemne*
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Parsifal; Prelude to Act I
Good Friday Spell (Act III)
Edwin Fischer (piano)*
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Recorded 1937-39
NAXOS 8.110879 [68.08]

There are three commercial recordings of Furtwängler’s C minor; an early electric Polydor from 1926, this one which dates from 1937 and the post-War Vienna recording of 1954, the year of his death. In all however this trio has been supplemented by eight live broadcast performances. We can now follow him from that 1926 set, through this, unquestionably the best of the commercials, to the last recording via those supplementary broadcasts of 1943, 1947 (two), 1950 (two), 1952 and again in 1954 (two more, to join the Vienna LP made at the beginning of the year).

This famous set joins the 1938 Tchaikovsky Pathétique as one of Furtwängler’s great pre-War symphonic statements. It’s such a famous recording that little new needs be added, other than that the tempo elasticities and range of extreme dynamics are far more measured and incisive than the 1926 Polydor and that the relatively slow and granitic impulses are entirely convincing on their own terms. One should listen for the wind soloists in the slow movement – the phrasing is truly "grazioso" – and the finely argued fugal entry points in the third movement, as well as the sense of spacious drive cultivated in the finale. This transfer is very much to be preferred to the (in any case no longer available) Novello CD, which was constricted aurally. This one has retained a relatively high level of surface noise and shellac crackle but sounds open in the treble.

Coupled with it is the Adagio solemne, all that was recorded, from Furtwängler’s own Symphonic Concerto. He’s joined by Edwin Fischer, one of his favoured pianists, and with whom he broadcast (fortunately taped) that monumental wartime Brahms Second Piano Concerto. His own work is aurally a direct descendant of the same composer’s D minor concerto and is conveyed with utter concentration. Furtwängler never recorded Parsifal and all that remains are tantalising moments such as these – the Prelude to Act I and the Good Friday music from Act III (a live broadcast of the latter has survived). These are nobly conceived readings and vividly recorded. And the disc as a whole is equally successful – though I can imagine a cut in surface noise without loss of higher frequencies.

Jonathan Woolf

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