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Wilhelm Furtwängler/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Salzburg Festival 1949 -1954.

Igor STRAVINSKY
(1882-1971)

Petrushka (1911, rev. 1947) [34’11].
Le sacre du printemps (1913, rev. 1947) [32’42].
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G BWV1048 (1708-1721) [14.26] recorded 31/8/50
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D BWV1050 (1708-1721) [29.38] recorded 31/8/50
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No.3 in E Flat Op. 55 Eroica (1803) [52.04] recorded 31/8/50
Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op.92 (1812) [39.25] recorded 30/8/54
Symphony No. 8 in F Major Op. 93 (1812) [27.21] recorded 30/8/54
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op.125 Choral (1824) [76.47] recorded 31/8/51
Grosse Fugue in B Flat, Op. 133 (1826) [18.05] recorded 30/8/54
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor Op. 98 (1885) [40.53] recorded 15/8/50
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Op. 55 Eroica (1875) [70.14] 19/8/51
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Die Harmonie der Welt (1951) [33.27] recorded 30/8/53
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1912) [17.11] 19/8/51
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

The Hebrides Overture (1830) [10.30] 19/8/51
Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949)

Symphony in C, Op. 46 (1940) [15.12] recorded 7/8/49
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No.9 in C Major D944 Great (1828) [51.38] recorded 30/8/53
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Don Juan, Op. 20 (1888) [18.46] recorded 30/8/53
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Symphony in Three Movements (1945) [22.34] recorded 15/8/50
Irmgard Seefried (soprano), Sieglinde Wagner (alto), Anton Dermota (tenor) Josef Greindl (bass) and the Wiener Staatsopernchor (Beethoven No. 9), and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) (Mahler Songs)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler.
All recorded live at the Salzburg Festival between 1949 and 1954. ADD
ORFEO C 409 048 L [8 CDs: 78.53 + 66.37 + 57.33 + 70.14 + 76.49 + 52.34 + 79.07 + 57.38]


This is a bumper commemorative boxed set of performances by Wilhelm Furtwängler issued by Orfeo to mark the 50th Anniversary of the conductor’s death. The recordings are part of the Salzburg Archives and many of them have been available in pirated versions on various labels. This is one of the main problems when collecting recordings by Furtwängler: some unscrupulous companies state fictitious recording dates to entice the keen collector to add yet another recording of the great master to his/her collection. With this current collection, a limited edition, the dates - given above against each item - are likely to be correct, as is the recording location.

Unlike many other recordings from the Salzburg Festival which were done by Austrian Radio and for which the original tapes exist, there were no such tapes available for this boxed set. The sources of much of the repertoire has therefore had to be made available from private recordings, and other such sources. This means that considerable restoration has been necessary. I was unaware of this fact until reading the excellent booklet, about half way through listening to the set. Given their provenance, the sound is remarkably good, with very few glitches audible. Full marks therefore to the restoration engineers.

The repertoire is well known to Furtwängler enthusiasts and there will be few surprises to the keen collector who knows Furtwängler’s approach to these works. For those who are coming to this conductor for the first time though, perhaps a few comments will help.

The Bach performances will probably send any listeners brought up on period performances running screaming to the hills. Today, interpretations like this sound very, very ancient. Tempi and phrasing is massive with heavy accents and with the conductor playing continuo on a piano!

His Beethoven however is much more acceptable to modern ears, with generally weighty playing; particularly in the Eroica and Choral symphonies. The choir and soloists in the Choral are likewise first rate and the performance of the Ninth has the well known uncertainty in phrasing of the opening to the first movement. There is also the runaway speed of the coda to the last movement which must have been dreaded by the orchestra, knowing full well what was coming.

The other two symphonies are less controversial with the Vienna Philharmonic showing why it has been considered a superb ensemble through the ages. The standards of playing are uniformly good throughout all eight discs.

Brahms was another of the conductor’s favourite composers and I would direct anyone who has an interest in the conducting of Brahms to look at the "Great Conductors" DVD which shows Furtwängler rehearsing the Berlin Philharmonic in London in the last movement of the fourth. I defy anyone to find a more exciting rendition of this ending. The EMI recording of Brahms No. 4 is less satisfactory than the film mainly due to poor sound quality. The present performance is better in this respect, but still not perfect.

When we reach Bruckner’s Fifth, the concentration is incredible. I was unable to do anything else except listen. We must remember that in the era of these recordings, Bruckner was far less well known than today, and was still considered difficult for orchestras to play. Given this the performance is quite outstanding. The finale will come as a revelation to many listeners. Instead of being presented as an extended allegro, Furtwängler turns it into a huge accelerando, not relenting until some seven minutes before the end, then only for a short time, when it rushes off to the finish line..

Hindemith was a favourite composer of Furtwängler’s and he worked extensively with the composer to ensure that he performed Hindemith’s works as well as he could. We don’t often get the chance to hear him conducting what was then extremely modern repertoire so the present performance is well worth having.

Much the same can be said about the Pfitzner and Stravinsky symphonies; well worth hearing in these interpretations.

The effect of the sea is conjured up very well in Mendelssohn’s favourite overture and the Schubert Symphony No. 9, whilst not eclipsing the DG studio recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, gains in spontaneity over the DG version.

A very young sounding Fischer-Dieskau gives a superlative performance of the Mahler song cycle, and the other composer, Richard Strauss, gives Furtwängler the opportunity to thrill his Festival audience with a performance of great power.

I have nothing but praise for this superb commemorative issue. I hope it is not deleted too soon.


John Phillips

 



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