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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Wilhelm Furtwängler - The Early Recordings - Volume 3
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz (1817) - Overture [9:51] and Entr’acte [3:21]
Invitation to the Dance Op.65 (orch. Berlioz) [8:33]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - overture Op.21 (1829) [12:46]
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - incidental music Op.61 (1843) [16:51] ¹
The Hebrides Fingal’s Cave - overture op.26 (1829-35) [9:48]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
The Damnation of Faust Op.24 - Hungarian March (Rakoczy March) (1845-46) [4:15]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler, Erich Kleiber ¹
rec. Hochschule fur Musik, Berlin 1929-35
NAXOS 8.111004 [65:26]
Experience Classicsonline

The third volume devoted to Furtwängler’s ‘Early Recordings’ is not extensive enough to span its entire length and has therefore to share disc space with Erich Kleiber’s 1929 recording of the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Furtwängler’s contribution however amounts to some fifty minutes or so of a fairly lightweight programme. Many years later in 1954 he recorded the complete Freischütz but it’s pleasing to hear these 1935 extracts. He was attracted by the overture which he’d already recorded in 1926, on an early electric, and was to do so again in Berlin in 1944, twice in 1952, and again in ’54. In fact that 1926 disc was his first commercially released recording. There’s foreboding in the Overture - fine horn playing as one would expect - and a sense of linearity and tension throughout. The horns are on equally vivid form in the Entr’acte. The Overture was spread over three 78 sides whilst the Entr’acte was on the fourth.

Unlike the Weber this performance of the Invitation to the Dance in the Berlioz orchestration was his only recording of it. It’s well textured, elegant, forthright, but not punctilious over repeats; it’s also true to say that on this evidence, given the orchestration, he was no match for Harty as a Berlioz conductor. Moving on, this isn’t the sole example of the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in his discography as there’s a 1947 recording. This earlier recording is sympathetically contoured and well recorded into the bargain. Fingal’s Cave comes from a 1930 session and is briskly dispatched without over-much warmth, one feels. His Vienna recordings in 1949 and ’51 were somewhat better and the sound, obviously, demonstrably so; for 1930 this is a bit of a mushy affair, constricted and opaque, and with more obviously audible surface noise; altogether a rather brusque case is made out in this performance. There’s a welcome return to form, interpretatively and in terms of recording technology, for the Rakoczy March even though the two pieces were set down very close together. The Kleiber envoi is full of his vitalised rhythmic brio, warmly moulded and trammelled, and with fine string tone, cultivated and unflabby, from the Berlin Philharmonic.

It ends a well selected but ultimately - and necessarily, perhaps - patchy kind of programme which has been, however, extremely well transferred.

Jonathan Woolf



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