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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.61
Cavatina from the Quartet in B flat major Op.130
Grosse Fuge in B flat major Op.133
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Recorded live 30 September 1947 (Concerto), live 10 February 1952 (Grosse Fuge) and in the studio 15 October 1940 (Cavatina)
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0257 [72.27]

Remastered with 24 Bit and issued from superb source says the rubric, a little uneasily in English, on the back of the jewel case. Apart from not knowing what 24 Bit is Ė please donít write to tell me; I donít care, Iím still struggling with the changeover to stereo Ė it begs a further question. What source in particular is the first that springs to mind because it assuredly isnít the original source material. Letís leave that for a moment. The performance of the Concerto is not the Lucerne Festival recording in August 1947 but a live Berlin one about a month later (nor should it be confused with the later 1953 Philharmonia disc Ė both these others have made appearances over the years and earned just praise. This particular 1947 performance is far more measured than the later recording. This Berlin performance is if anything possibly the finest of the three, though the Lucerne performance has its staunch and well argued adherents and I wouldnít want to be with out it nor in truth the 1953 recording. Furtwängler had earlier been taped in concert with Röhn (Berlin, 1944) and was later to be taped with Schneiderhan, a performance that emerged on LP in 1964, I think. No trace seems to remain of any performance with Georg Kulenkampff, alas, whose set with Schmidt-Isserstedt seems to divide people into paroxysms of superlatives or lip-curling indifference (I admire it).

If you donít know the Berlin performance as you do the Lucerne I should say the differences are slight but the levels of tension and engagement seem even more palpable in Berlin. The measured orchestral introduction, replete with rubati and oceanic flexibility will not please the military medium brigade or adherents of metricality but the elasticity and flexibility Furtwangler conjures is nevertheless remarkable. Menuhin is closely miked Ė too closely miked Ė and the basses are a bit "fat" but the level of soloistic introspection, the very quick slides and total identification with the music is equally special. Menuhin is on notably elevated form here and one hears things never before heard Ė orchestral counter-themes for example that I have genuinely never heard in the same light as here or orchestral textures. Menuhin tears into the Kreisler cadenza Ė and though there may be some rough bowing itís still magnetically involving. Freedom of expression courses through the slow movement, with Menuhinís prayerful tone intoning a greater truth than most violinists envisage in this work. The finale is sweet but not lyrically elfin Ė and at a relatively sedate tempo; nothing is pushed too hard. The performance elucidates a great deal and achieves to a large degree a state of power and serenity.

Furtwängler was hardly unique in programming the orchestral arrangements of the Cavatina from Op.130 or the Grosse Fuge. His antipode Toscanini also performed and recorded such movements. The 1940 Cavatina suffers from rather a boxy studio acoustic but is splendidly evocative Ė and this is the only performance of it to have survived. This Grosse Fuge broadcast has been less issued over the years than the 1954 Vienna Philharmonic performance, which I last saw on Music and Arts. Both are galvanic but maybe the Vienna is the more overwhelming. But for reasons of its greater ubiquity itís good to have this Berlin performance available.

As for the transfers Iíve experienced some mixed emotions with Archipel discs. Their Mengelberg-Bach disc was a bit of a Ďhit and missí affair with a glutinous bass boost doing for an Orchestral Suite. There is some low level hum in the Concerto but Iím not sure, since I donít have a comparative source to which to listen, whether this derives from LP rumble (if Archipel have used a previous LP transfer as its source) or is inherent in the original tapes. Itís great news that these performances are newly available Ė but interested parties should, if at all possible, sample before they buy.

Jonathan Woolf


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