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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat Romantic (1878-80) 1888 Gutmann edition [65:55]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwängler
rec. Stuttgart, 22 October 1951
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (1876) 1878 Haas edition [68:50]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwängler
rec. Berlin, 25-28 October 1942
Symphony No. 6 in A major (1879-81) – minus the first movement -1881 Haas edition [36:11]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwängler
rec. Berlin, 13-16 November 1943
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1881-84) 1884-85 Gutmann edition [63:11]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwängler
rec. Cairo, 23 April 1951
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (1884-87, rev. 1889-90) 1887/90 Haas edition, modified by 1892 Lenau [79:11]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwängler
rec. Vienna, 17 October 1944
Symphony No 9 in D minor, (1891-1896) 1932 Orel edition [58:49]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwängler
rec. Berlin 7 October 1944
MUSIC AND ARTS CD1209 [5 CDs: 65:55 + 68:50 + 79:50 + 79:09 + 79:11]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Since one of the most familiar features of Furtwängler's discography is the pitiful lack of a commercially recorded Bruckner symphony cycle we all know what we're getting here. But given the competing performances that exist some separating of versions might be in order. I will note at the outset that this M & A set goes into the question of the editions used very briefly, with very different conclusions to those reached hitherto, especially by John Ardoin. This mainly concerns the apparent use by the conductor of Gutmann’s editions in Nos. 4 and 7 and the 1932 Orel in No.8. It includes Ardoin’s extensive and informed commentary on the performances. One further point – the transfers have been effected by Aaron Z Snyder; more on that at the end.

The Fourth is the Stuttgart performance given by the Vienna Philharmonic in October 1951. As a performance it is possibly superior to the in any case less well-recorded one in Munich, which was given a week later. The Munich performance is not quite as responsive or as well played even though the immensity of the transitions will compel interest either pro or contra. The audience is rather restive especially, of course, in the slow movement in Munich. But in Stuttgart the audience was quieter and the orchestral sound stage was more immediate; the performance therefore blazes with an extra intensity. Ardoin noted that Furtwängler habitually used the Schalk-Löwe edition but as noted above M & A identify it as the 1888 Gutmann. 

The Fifth is one of four wartime broadcasts in this set. It was given in Berlin in October 1942. Others find the actual sound splendid but I find it rather occluded for its time. The heft of it however still registers powerfully. And the performance is better performed and one should probably concede better conducted than the post-war Vienna Philharmonic performance from Salzburg. In Berlin things are tougher hewn and powerfully impressive; the audience coughs and horn fluffs are here insignificant. This performance has been out on Music and Arts before - CD538 - and on the DG set 427 7742/427 7732. You may possibly have come across it on Bella Musica BMF 967.

Unfortunately the first movement of the Sixth has not survived. In any case this wasn't a work which the conductor found especially congenial. He first performed it shortly before this broadcast - November 1943 - and then never returned to it. This is the only survivor and the more to be valued for that reason but obviously recommendation is limited by reason of its being a torso. It's been out on Tahra.

The Seventh is not the one from Rome in 1951 with the touring Berlin orchestra, which I have always preferred, but the (to me) strangely uncommitted Cairo performance of the same year. Neither however is preferable to the best version, the 1949 Berlin - a towering achievement, memorably expressive. Still, the Seventh, here held to be the 1884-85 Gutmann was the only one of the symphonies of which Furtwängler left behind a commercially recorded trace – the Adagio was recorded – and his way with it, even in Cairo is to be savoured.

No.8 is with the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded there in October 1944, ten days after the final recording in this set, that of the Ninth Symphony. The Eighth was on Toshiba CE28 5757-8, also on DG (Japan) POCC2346 and probably most usually for the majority Music and Arts CD764 and Tahra FURT 1084-1087. This one has a blazing authority and commitment; the adagio is immense and tragic, unerringly and compellingly directed. The sound is immediate. He uses the modified Haas edition here whereas later in Vienna he used the Schalk; M & A going further to identify the Haas modifications as being the use of the 1892 Lenau edition “for guidance”.

The Ninth was on DG (Japan) POCC 2347 and DG 445 418-2GX2 and Music and Arts CD 730. It's slightly less well recorded than the Eighth but it is the only surviving example of his way with this symphony. We know from his own testimony that a performance in St Florian three days later than this preserved one was of great significance to him. But this one could scarcely have been less fine, so intense and searing is the resultant performance. This is probably the most consistently impressive and utterly necessary of all Furtwängler Bruckner recordings. Furthermore the edition used is noted as being the 1932 Orel.

So finally that word about Aaron Z Snyder’s digital remastering. He uses what’s called the “revolutionary new harmonic balancing” technique but beyond that M & A aren’t saying what this actually means. I’m assuming however that it’s analogous to something like Andrew Rose’s XR technique. I’m going to reserve critical judgement until the full mechanics are made known but what I can say, prima facie, is the amazing sense of immediacy generated by the transfer process, whether by rebalancing, or whatever. I played these transfers against some of the ones mentioned above, also against Andromeda’s, and the results were pretty startling in brilliance, definition and bass response.

Jonathan Woolf

Comment received
Jonathan,

I'm truly happy that you are pleased with the results of my efforts to improve the sound of these recording. The restoration required a considerable amount of hand-correction due to the numerous defects in the recording media. In particular, there were quite a few dropouts in the Eighth Symphony which needed to be repaired, along with the usual hum and clicks which afflict most recordings from this era. (Actually, hum is still a problem even in the all-digital age.)

I wanted to address one issue in particular, namely the “revolutionary new harmonic balancing” technique which I used. In all honesty, I despise this type of advertising since it may imply knock-your-socks-off audio to some, while to others it may imply pure fakery. It's not Andrew Rose's XR system, since I actually don't know many of the steps in his process, but I can say that I use a program which Andrew first used for his restorations and then publicized, much to my benefit: Har-Bal. It's not a miracle program, nor does it correct deficiencies in a recording without a lot of human intervention. It is, nonetheless, an extremely useful tool to help the restorer get close to the ideal equalization for a recording by matching the frequency response curve of the recording being restored to that of a known-good recording. Once that process has been accomplished, the user still has to do hand corrections the old-fashioned empirical (but, thank goodness, digital) way. Since Har-Bal is, as I say, "just a tool", and since I use many tools to get my results, I chafe quite a bit at the advertising methods. I hope they don't turn anyone off.

Regarding the editions of the symphonies used by Furtwängler, I tried in most cases to indicate the publisher and the year of the edition used by Furtwängler. Too often the name of the editor(s) indicate something which isn't really true. For example, calling the edition of the Fourth Symphony the Löwe-Schalk edition implies that the score is riddled with alterations done without the knowledge of the composer. In actual fact, recent scholarship has shown that this edition is truly authentic, and represents Bruckner's final effort in revising the symphony. In the case of the Ninth Symphony, I should have mentioned that Furtwängler modified the dynamics in two spots in the third movement to be in line with the now-discredited Löwe edition of the symphony. Old habits die hard. (Even Siegmund von Hausegger, in the first-ever recording of the so-called "Originalfassung" of the Ninth Symphony, modified a few spots in the score to match the Löwe edition!) The case of the Eighth Symphony is an interesting one, especially with regard to the wartime performance. Furtwängler never accepted Haas' insertion of one section from the 1887 Adagio into the 1890 Adagio, and here, as in later performances of the Eighth, he eliminates this section. Even more interesting is the fact that in the finale, he follows the 1892 publication in two spots: the tuba plays its short solo near the end of the first subject exposition an octave lower than written (as is normally done by a tuba) rather than as written (the word "loco" appears by this section in the Haas and Nowak editions, but is missing from the 1892 edition); and in the development, a breathtaking Luftpause, found only in the 1892 edition, is observed. Neither of these two features is observed in his later performances.

In the case of the Seventh Symphony, I was given the choice of either the Cairo or Rome performance from 1951. Since the Rome performance came from a set of lacquers, which, as is the case with most lacquers, had rather noisy surfaces, I opted for the Cairo version. This recording was hardly without its own problems (drop-outs, clicks, hum), but the most offensive feature was the severe compression of the dynamics, especially at loud climaxes. I've corrected these spots to the best of my ability.

Finally, I have to admit that I was amused by your observation that the audience in Stuttgart was quieter than in Munich. While I must admit that I've never heard the Munich performance so as to be able to make a comparison, I myself found the Stuttgart audience quite noisy -- so noisy, in fact, that I removed or suppressed many of the truly offending coughs. I wish I had had enough time to do them all! Yes, it is possible to do this without affecting the music, but the work is quite labor-intensive! Incidentally, I also fixed the fluffed horn solo at the beginning of the first movement. It's hard to believe that the Vienna Philharmonic could play so badly!

Once again, thank you for the positive reaction. It makes my efforts seem worthwhile!

Aaron Z Snyder

(BTW: I use the "Z" to distinguish myself from all the other Aaron Snyders out there. It's shocking to see how many there are. One of them is a skateboard expert!)


 


 




 


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