was born in 1886 in Munich where his father was a lecturer at
the University. In 1920 he succeeded Richard Strauss as conductor
of concerts at the Berlin Opera. His next position was Music
Director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Berlin
Philharmonic, following in the footsteps of the great Artur
Felix Weingartner in 1928 as director of the Vienna Philharmonic
he refused directorship of the State Opera, but in 1931 went
on to become joint musical director of the Bayreuth Festival
with Arturo Toscanini, where he championed the music of Wagner.
When offered posts
in New York and Vienna as director of Opera, he declined preferring
to stay in Germany where after the Second World War he was cleared
of all allegations of collaborating with the Nazis.
He had notable success
in Britain with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the 1950s and
I remembers a concert he gave in London's Royal Festival Hall
performing Beethoven's 4th and 5th Symphonies and to have seen
him in the flesh, is an occasion I shall never forget!
included here are of performances recorded between 1949 and
The Brahms Violin
Concerto with Menuhin dates from October 1949 and is taken from
HMV Red Label 78's.
The opening allegro
begins very serenely with Furtwängler commanding some fine playing
from the Lucerne Orchestra. From his first entry Menuhin displays
a wonderful sensitivity and sureness of tone that remained with
this artist throughout his distinguished career.
a superb Brahms conductor and adopts a fairly broad tempo for
the first movement. The slow movement marked adagio has some
fine woodwind playing especially the principal oboe and again
there are some exquisite passages from both soloist and orchestra.
The third and final
movement allegro giocoso is another example of Brahms' superb
writing for violin and orchestra. The interplay between soloist
and orchestra is quite magical and the pre-LP 78s from 1949
sounding quite fresh in their transfer to CD.
The remainder of
the disc is allocated to a performance of Schumann’s 4th Symphony
which according to the notes was recorded from a broadcast by
an amateur music lover. Fortunately the recording survived,
as the original tapes were deleted by Swiss Radio (thank goodness
for the BBC).
in general receives a dramatic and spirited interpretation from
Furtwängler who again secures good playing from the Lucerne
orchestra. The recording itself is indeed adequate, but with
some quite audible distortion in loud passages.
The second disc
consists of a complete performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony
as well as short extracts from the 7th and 9th Symphonies.
The Eroica is taken
from the same broadcast as the Schumann 4th in 1953 and it is
interesting to make comparisons with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony
Orchestra recorded by NBC in Carnegie Hall, New York on 6th
Whilst both conductors
were great Beethoven interpreters, they differ quite considerably
at times on matters of tempi, Furtwängler taking over two minutes
longer in the first movement. Both conductors omit the first
The remaining three
movements are taken at a much brisker tempo by Toscanini and
one is constantly reminded of the modern approach favoured by
period instrument conductors in observing Beethoven's metronome
is a wonderful account of the Eroica from a great conductor,
whose clarity and inner detail of the score is beautifully achieved.
The two extracts
that completes the disc are both taken from live performances:
the 7th in August 1951 and the 9th in August 1954. The 7th Symphony
again has some fine playing but cannot quite match the beauty
of tone that the Vienna Philharmonic gave to Furtwängler in
their HMV recording.
In the 'Choral'
the Festival Chorus(!) is joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra
whose playing in the last movement excerpt is quite staggering.
Champagne days indeed!
All in all then,
a splendid document illustrating the art and musicianship of
a very great conductor who died prematurely (for a conductor)
at the age of 68. A sad loss!