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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.9 in D Minor Op.125 Choral (1824) [63:17]
Kerstin Lindberg-Torlind (soprano); Else Jena (mezzo soprano); Eric Sjöberg (tenor); Holger Byrding (bass)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Danish Radio Chorus/Fritz Busch
Overture - Leonore III in C major Op.72a [13:38]
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Busch
rec. 7 September 1950 (Symphony) and 24 October 1949 (Leonore)
GUILD GHCD 2343 [77:15]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.9 in D Minor Op.125 Choral (1824) [62:37]
Judith Hellwig (soprano); Lydia Kinderamm (contralto); René Maison (tenor); Alexander Kipnis (bass)
Teatro Colón Orchestra and Choir/Arturo Toscanini
Overture - Leonore III in C major Op.72a [13:52]
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Arturo Toscanini
rec. 24 July 1941 live in the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires (Symphony) and 26 April 1936 live in New York (Leonore)
GUILD GHCD 2344 [77:43]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

CD 1 [73:15]
Symphony No.9 in D Minor Op.125 Choral (1824) [72:57]
Tilla Briem (soprano); Elisabeth Hoengen (contralto); Peter Anders (tenor); Rudolf Watzke (bass)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Bruno Kittel Choir
rec. live, Berlin, March 1942
CD 2 [69:20]
Overture - Leonore III in C major Op.72a – rehearsal [10:59]
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded Stockholm, 12 November 1948
Overture - Leonore III in C major Op.72a [14:36]
Concertgebouw Orchestra, recorded live Amsterdam, 13 July 1950
Overture - Egmont [8:24]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded Berlin 1933
Overture - Coriolan [8:57]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded live, Berlin, 30 June 1943
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Concerto Grosso in A Op.6 No.10 [14:57]
Teatro Colón Orchestra, recorded live in Buenos Aires, 23 April 1950
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Rosamunde I and Rosamunde II – incidental music [10:54]
Teatro Colón Orchestra, recorded live in Buenos Aires, 5 May 1950
Wilhelm Furtwängler
GUILD GHCD 2345/46 [73:15 + 69:20]
Experience Classicsonline


Guild has done something unusual here. It’s released a trio of competing Choral Symphony performances from the years 1941-50. Each disc is a separate entity. So the Busch recording also takes its place in the fine restorative work Guild is undertaking on behalf of this still neglected musician. The Toscanini meanwhile is one of the least well known of his traversals, the live 1941 Teatro Colón and the Furtwängler is the Berlin performance given the following year. Of course the primary binary play-off is between the last two.

But in many ways the most impressive of the three performances is the Busch. Those unused to Busch’s conducting, who might otherwise presume a link with his fellow countryman Furtwängler, should be aware that this is very far from the case. Both Fritz and his violin playing brother Adolf Busch were very much in Toscanini’s orbit; the conducting Busch shared similar traits – clarity, precision, articulation, rhythmic incision, fast tempi, an avoidance of saturated string tone. All these qualities are demonstrated in this live 1950 broadcast, made the year before Busch’s premature death.

The linear sense of dramatic lyricism is uppermost in this performance. It sounds rather closer to Toscanini’s post War 1952 performance in fact than the 1941 one that Guild has just released – but a caveat should be noted. With Toscanini and indeed his antipode Furtwängler a number of performances have survived; with Busch just this one, so it’s better to exercise caution and to note that on the basis of this one survival alone, we can speculate that he tended to be roughly aligned with Toscanini in questions of tempo relation though to be slightly broader in the first movement and quicker than Toscanini in the second (though Busch only takes the first of the two repeats). What I think is undeniable is that the tenor of the performance derives from a different philosophical tradition from Furtwängler’s own – the spirit of innate dramatic lyricism is one that lies at the buoyant, singing, bracing and forward-pushing heart of the conducting.

This has been out on both Danacord and DG 453 804-2GCB6 – the former as part of their Busch collective sets, the latter in a ‘Historic Beethoven Recordings’ box set. I can’t vouch for the DG because I’ve not heard it; I only know the Danacord in its LP guise and can say that the constricted sound to be heard there – maybe as a result of the LP cutting process – has been decisively overcome by Guild. This is a forceful, very present transfer. It makes one wish afresh that the post-War commercial recordings that Busch left of Symphonies No. 3, 7 and 8 had been properly engineered.

In terms of absolute timings there’s actually very little between Toscanini and Busch. But in matters of localised detail and broader sweep there are obviously very real differences. This is simply the most galvanic performance of the Ninth I have ever heard from Toscanini - but in the most problematic sound. It’s truly visceral from start to finish, a passionate, occasionally even hectoring performance of a symphony that even his greatest admirers will admit Toscanini found difficult to communicate successfully. There are four NBC Symphony survivals, and single examples from the BBC Symphony, Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, La Scala and this one under discussion. But the directional tension of this 1941 performance is volcanic and its architectural sweep is often overwhelming whether one responds to the nature of the conducting or not. The problem of the sound however will limit pleasure. It’s mushy and constricted with, regrettably a limited dynamic range. Guild has clearly tried to do it can with it but it’s still sonically compromised to a large degree.

That’s not the case with the last of the three, the 1942 Berlin Ninth. Furtwängler’s performance stands at complete remove from Busch and Toscanini. It is an Olympian, measured, profoundly noble, unsettled and unsettling reading. The deliberation, the fissures, the massive power engendered at these slower tempi might almost represent not just a different philosophy but a different time. The massive nature of the reading comes as a result of many things but one in particular – the exceptionally wide dynamics Furtwängler encourages. As with Toscanini Furtwängler can be heard multiply in this symphony from his 1937 London traversal to the 1954 Lucerne and others in between – maybe the 1954 Bayreuth is the most widely available. But as with the selected Toscanini performance this 1942 reading is possibly the most outstanding example of the conductor’s way with it.

In its way it’s quite as powerful a reading as Toscanini’s though the means are very different. I’ve not mentioned the quartet of soloists so let me note that they’re good for Busch, a better-known quartet for Toscanini but far less audible. Furtwängler had his regular bass Rudolf Watzke with him. Only Tilla Briem disappoints. The Furtwängler disc has some bonuses. One of the features of this trio of discs is that the Symphony is coupled with performances of the Leonore III overture. In this last however things are taken beyond that. Furtwängler is heard rehearsing the work in Stockholm – a rare and fascinating insight into the care he took, for example, over tempi and evenness of phrasing. Then he plays the whole thing with the Concertgebouw, and then Coriolan and Egmont with his Berlin Philharmonic. There’s a pleasing Rosamunde and a stodgy Handel. Regarding the last I know that Guild is aware of its typo. It’s not the Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.11 but No.10. This will be corrected, I am sure, on subsequent pressings.

So this is one of those ‘compare and contrast’ set of releases. I don’t know how many people will buy all three – possibly very few – and there’s really no imperative to do so. But these are three important documents and they have been worthily presented here.

Jonathan Woolf

 


 


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