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Wilhelm Furtwängler-Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No.8
(RRG 17.X.1944)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

The Hebrides
(HMV 14.II.1949)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade No. 13 in G) K525
(HMV 1.IV.1949)
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)

Kaiserwalzer, Opus 437
(HMV 24.I.1950)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No.4
(HMV 25/30.I.1950)
Symphony No 7
(HMV 18/19.I.1950)
Leonore III
(Live 22.VIII.1950)
Coriolan Overture
(Live 1951)
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)

Ma Vlast – Vltava
(HMV 24.I.1951)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No.88
(Live 22.10.1951)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Symphony No.1
(Live 29.X.1951)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Recorded 1944-51, exact dates as above
TAHRA FURT 1084-1087 [4 CDs 77.01 + 70.38 + 69.02 + 63.34]


Tahra continues its increasingly comprehensive Furtwängler series with this 4 CD set of well-known performances, from diverse sources, given with his "other" orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. He had conducted the orchestra since 1922 but it was only with Weingartner’s resignation five years later that he had the chance to succeed to the position of Principal Conductor - a by no means easy step given some players’ opposition. The recordings come from a seven-year period between 1944 and 1951 and divide fairly evenly between commercial HMV discs and radio broadcast survivals. All have been issued before over the years and a number in multiple editions but Tahra’s remastering is of a high standard and this makes for a convenient Vienna box for the conductor’s many admirers.

The Bruckner Eight of 1944 is one of at least four performances to have survived and is generally reckoned to be his most powerfully engaged and rugged. He did return to it in Vienna, commercially, a decade later (in the last year of his life) and dispensed with the modified Haas version he had habitually used and substituted the Schalk edition instead. But this off-air wartime recording, in memorably immediate sound, has a blazing authority, command and control of line that certainly stands comparison (and more) with the conductor’s older, slightly mellower (if still spiritually energised) self. The Adagio is the coagulatory heartbeat of the reading, immense and tragic, unerringly and comprehensively well directed. The second disc is a mixed bag of commercial recordings. The Mendelssohn lacks the spring and drama of, say, Beecham, and if Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is hardly essential Furtwängler fare it’s still notable for the romanticised gestures in the Romanze second movement, a locus classicus of the conductor’s visionary style in compressed classical form. There’s a really splendid Emperor Waltz – to rival Clemens Krauss, this; why didn’t Furtwängler conduct more Johann Strauss? – and the second disc ends with the HMV Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony from January 1950. More performances of this symphony have survived from the Vienna Philharmonic than Berlin (three to one, if you’re counting). As with a number of the 1950 commercial discs the recorded sound is a bit on the ascetic side with a corresponding lack of bloom – not clinical exactly, certainly not Studio 8H, but just too cold for ideal listening. Still, this is a fine reading, quite classical, not overtly interventionist, with a superbly sculpted slow movement as its high point, along with one or two peculiarities of phrasing in the finale.

His two commercial recordings of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony were made a few years apart - this Vienna one from 1950 and the Berlin recording of 1953. A wartime performance from 1943 (Berlin) has survived as has the 1948 Stockholm and a 1954 Vienna Philharmonic (live, taped in Salzburg). Tahra has retained shellac surface noise but there is real immediacy and presence of sound in their transfer. There is exceptional delicacy and finesse in the Allegretto, which inclines rather more to an Andante in his hands, but its sense of sculptural significance is palpable and intensely moving. And the finale is dramatic and powerfully cast, a crusading drive animating its proportions. Hysterical applause (lengthy; I rather wish Tahra had cut it) greets the performance of Leonore III (Salzburg, August 1950). The off-air tape preserves the performance in rather brash sound – nothing subtle about it at all. The commercial Vltava (or Die Moldau) is too concerned with airy legato to make much impression; from the very slow flutes in the opening paragraphs to the stentorian Wagnerianisms later on and the flippant triangle at the conclusion, and despite some glorious aquatic colouration, this is strictly for admirers only.

His Haydn Symphony No.88 is one of a very few performances of this composer’s works to have survived in Furtwängler’s discography (I believe, in addition to this, only Symphonies 94 and 104 are extant). I have to say this Stuttgart performance is less impressive than the Berlin studio recording for Deutsche Grammophon and it doesn’t reveal Furtwängler as an especially communicative or openhearted classicist (the Minuet is heavy, listless and devoid of humour). There’s a good Coriolan from 1951 and to end this fourth disc, and the set, Schumann’s First from the same concert, given in Munich in October 1951. This receives a weighty, explicitly romanticised performance, with a huge sense of power and a blazing statement of the brass chorale in the first movement. He slows down the Scherzo appreciably – probably in the interests of binding the rhetoric tighter - though not all will appreciate his highly personalised limiting of Schumann’s emotive extremes. Still, parts of the performance are simply breathtaking even if the totality of it will leave others more cautious in appraisal.

Notes are in French and English and trace the conductor’s long relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic in some detail. As a conspectus it achieves its objectives with conspicuous success.

Jonathan Woolf


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