In 1952, the great
German maestro Wilhelm Furtwängler
was contracted by the Italian Radio
to conduct and record eight concerts
in Rome and Turin. These concerts were
the first steps in a grand plan laid
out by the director of the Italian Radio.
This was despite the widespread view
that the orchestras in question, especially
that of Turin, were not up to the task
of meeting the musical demands of so
famous a conductor. Here after all was
a conductor who was accustomed to working
with such top-flight orchestras as the
Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics.
Whether they were up
to the task seems moot now, as one need
only listen to these performances to
see that Furtwängler was quite
capable of making any orchestra overcome
its perceived weaknesses.
Most remarkable about
every selection here is the fine sense
of pacing and dramatic ebb and flow
that were hallmarks of this conductor.
Even with orchestras that were somewhat
below standard, and with whom he had
never worked, Furtwängler was able
to set the exact amount of speed, rubato
and forward motion that make these recordings
seem "just right". This communicates
to the listener despite sound quality
that is not superb; not even for its
The contrasts are right-on
too, for example, the lovely Siegfried-Idyll
contains the perfect mix of joy and
tenderness. Opening with the Flying
Dutchman overture, a work that was later
to inspire countless film composers,
we get off to a rollicking start to
a swashbuckling reading. The funeral
music from Götterdämmerung
is ripe with gravitas, but never
gets bogged down in melodramatic displays.
Finally, the sweep and grandeur of the
Liebestod is nearly breathtaking.
What is to be lamented
about this release are the production
values. The notes are pitifully translated.
This is not idiomatic English. Funnier
still is the backward-printed photograph
on page 11, showing the right-handed
Furtwängler conducting with his
left hand, and the entire violin section
bowing with their left arms! Regrettably,
this sort of thing happens constantly
in classical releases.
If you can tolerate
the production values, these are great
performances by a master musician in
respectable sound for their age. The
music is recommended.