its inexorable way through the Furtwängler
wartime broadcast series. This one is
an all-Brahms disc. The Fourth Symphony
may be better known from the performances
in Berlin in 1948 and 1949; maybe the
1950 Vienna Philharmonic performance
as well, but for an example of the most
fluid exegesis imaginable this wartime
inscription can hardly be bettered.
The sense of ebb and
flow, of sheer elasticity, is immediate
and startling for those unfamiliar with
the conductor’s approach to this symphony.
The plentiful accelerandi bind the symphonic
argument in the most freely romantic
of jackets; ritardandi equally are used
for devastatingly emotive purposes,
with flexibility of pulse and expression
raised to a remarkable degree. Naturally
one can think of contemporaries almost
at random – Toscanini, Weingartner and
Boult to take just three examples –
for whom this is anathema. Nevertheless
the particular circumstances of the
performance and the supremely composed
nature of the conception bring rewards
of the highest kind. The slow movement
opens very slowly but subsequent tempo
modifications and fluctuations give
it a sense of constant evolutionary
drama. No less does the fervent percussion
section add its say. The measured dance
of the third movement balances joyous
affirmation with structural imperatives;
and the finale proves dramatic and intense
with that Furtwänglerian sense
of spontaneous abandon that seems to
drive everything before him.
There is a recording
caveat. One is aware, though it only
becomes troublesome from the scherzo
onwards, of tape flicker, rather like
a distant but audible pneumatic drill.
The Haydn variations
were recorded in December 1943. The
performance is modest, proportioned,
and highly sympathetic rather in the
way Knappertsbusch’s was. In variation
four Furtwängler brings a pleasing
gravity to the bass line and contrasts
it with a correspondingly vivacious
and aerial Vivace. He makes the most
of internal contrasts and delivers a
cogent and rewarding performance.
One detail remains
outstanding. Melodiya claims this to
be a performance given on 21 June 1942.
I’m not aware of any such recording.
It’s actually the one given on 12 December
1943 [Olsen 94].