The Naxos-Furtwängler series dedicated to the
conductor’s commercial recordings made between 1940 and 1950 has
now reached volume five. It’s an all-Brahms disc and gives us
the well-known Vienna traversals of 1947 and 1949.
He left behind many recordings of the C minor
Symphony, both commercial and broadcast, but even the greatest
proponent of Furtwängler’s work would hardly dare to claim that
this 1947 recording stands at the summit. The most dramatic
and coruscating example is unfortunately only a torso – the
wartime broadcast of the Adagio, an incandescent example of
his art and as with so many wartime survivals an example of
just how intense his conducting could become. The North German
performance of 1951 is probably the most recommendable; it doesn’t
quite capture the blazing power of the wartime Adagio but it
is powerful – and in this respect superior to the 1947 Lucerne
Festival, the 1950 V.P.O, the 1952 Turin or the 1953 Berlin.
There’s a 1954 Venezuela performance that I’ve never managed
One of the most absorbing elements of this
performance is to trace tempo modifications. These are of the
usual, idiosyncratic Furtwängler kind though never as abrupt
or as extreme as wartime symphonic broadcasts. Phrasing is plastic,
the Vienna strings sing richly, the brass is clear but the percussion
is recessed. One thing that one notices is the relative want
of energy in transitional passages. This happens most obviously
in the first movement but even in the finale – which is taken
broadly up to tempo – there’s a sense of things held in check.
However noble the peroration here may be, it has to be admitted
that this studio performance fails to generate requisite voltage.
There are seven surviving Furtwängler Haydn
Variations recordings. This one is rather becalmed. Having recently
listened to a live Beecham performance given in the studio at
around the same time and now issued for the first time on Somm,
one notices the differences in matters of vitality. Warmly moulded
though this Furtwängler performance is things can drag slightly.
The seventh variation is a particular case in point, where the
underlying pulse sounds rather turgid and receives insufficient
Ward Marston’s transfers sound well. He’s
retained some surface hiss and those higher frequencies, thankfully,
but whilst other restoration engineers might have reached for
their graphs and “restored” that recessive percussion he’s given
us a natural sounding pair of transfers. Neither performance
shows the conductor quite at his best but they are important
examples of his art nonetheless.