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.
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