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Wilhelm Furtwängler. Live in Lucerne - 26 VIII 1953
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto Op.77
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Symphony No.4 Op.120
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No.3 Op.55 Eroica
Symphony No.7 – Second Movement Rehearsal [6.08]
Symphony No.9 – extract from the Finale [7.25]+
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, E Cavelti, Ernst Haefliger and Otto Edelmann
Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival
Philharmonia Orchestra+
Recorded live in the Kunsthaus, Lucerne 1951-54, except the Brahms, a commercial HMV recording from 1949
TAHRA FURT 1088 [69.48 + 66.26]

 

Live in Lucerne accounts for approximately three-quarters of this double CD set from Tahra. There is also the well-known 1949 commercial recording of the Brahms Concerto given by Menuhin, his first traversal of it on disc, with the Lucerne Orchestra. Let’s start there. This is a comprehensively impressive document in which the violinist is notably broader in the first movement than he was six years earlier when, with Boult and the BBCSO, he was taped at white heat – a recording first broadcast some years ago by the BBC, then issued by their house magazine and now more widely available. He was also, in contradistinction, considerably more driving in the finale. Post-War with Furtwängler they probe with expressive muscularity the sinews of the first movement – spacious, intense, illuminated by inner light – and bring powerful lyricism to the slow movement. There’s a ration of shellac noise to contend with but such is the level of musicianship that you won’t notice; in any case it’s not severe.

Furtwängler recorded Schumann’s Fourth Symphony commercially (Berlin, 1953); this live broadcast from Lucerne was captured in rather brazen and unyielding sound even though it was recorded (by a private enthusiast off-air) in a studio. You will have to acknowledge the shrill upper frequencies and the light bass and the impact this has on sonority and string weight; if you can control the treble and boost the bass then you will equalise the sound with advantage. As for the reading, there is great power and direction and a sense of a huge organism running throughout. The buoyancy manifests itself in the Lebhaft and the sense of spiritual power that is evoked in the Langsam introduction of the finale is colossal. True there are numerous examples of tempo modifications and some will doubtless prefer greater weight of dynamics to the sense of elasticity Furtwängler indulges in. But the reasons for this level of metrical displacement are clear; this is a sometimes overwhelming reading that conjures up German Romanticism in all its tensile strength and fluid emotionalism. On its own terms, despite the subfusc sound, it still has the magnetism to compel the listener.

There are numerous examples of his way with the Eroica. The sound in Lucerne is inclined to be brittle in fortes and the wind chording is not always unanimous but otherwise this is relatively well preserved. His way with the Funeral March is entirely characteristic; from a halting, almost reserved apologia to an overwhelming climax full of the bleakest foreboding. We have two other preserved documents from Lucerne. There’s a six-minute segment of his rehearsing the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Happily he talks throughout, impressing on the musicians the need for a properly shaped crescendo and even, at one point, singing along under his breath. The other is a snippet from the finale of the Ninth Symphony with soloists and the Philharmonia – of rather less interest in the circumstances.

The notes – in French and English - are clear and helpful. Given some sonic limitations and the nature of the programme the appeal is directed at Furtwängler admirers in the main but much here is stirring and magnificent.

Jonathan Woolf



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