This is not the
April 1954 performance with Höffgen, Dermota, Fischer-Dieskau
and Edelmann. Famous though this has become it was a broadcast
survival, not a commercial set and was complete after the conductor’s
fashion, which is to say there were numerous excisions – fifteen
and nine semi-cuts.
What we have here
are two torsos. One is so mutilated as to be unrecognisable
– the execrable sounding Buenos Aires performance of 1950 (Overture,
plus Nos. 8-46 only) and the other is a better recorded but
very inconsistent Vienna traversal of April 1952 with Nos. 1-33
There are no notes,
no texts and no contexts. In Vienna we have the advantage of
the reedy and very forward Vienna boys choir, the Sängerknaben,
who are somewhat reminiscent of - though more focused than -
Mengelberg’s boys in his famous 1939 performance in Amsterdam,
which you’ll find on Naxos. Textures are however muddy and the
recording quality imperfect. Furtwängler’s choral accents are
emphatic and strong in the opening chorus and on the merit side
the Vienna flutes are good. The conductor employs a harpsichord
continuo when the recitatives are not string accompanied; in
Argentina he uses a piano. And in, say, the recitative Und
da sie den Lobgesang we hear a visceral response to the
text through slashing violin entries. The chorales are sung
with gravity and meaningful shape. In Seefried he has a soprano
soloist of comparable elevation, though even she can struggle
with the breaths in Blute nur, du liebes Herz.
Demerits are many,
other than the fact that the recording is subfusc and the work
is a mere torso. The Evangelist, Julius Patzak, was having a
very off day and he’s painful to listen to; he strains in the
higher register and his pitch is awry. These things happen to
even the best artists. The contralto is hard-edged and rather
immobile and the Jesus, Otto Weiner, is marmoreal and Wagnerian.
The Buenos Aires
performance is a write-off. The sound is truly terrible, the
chorus sings in Spanish and the first bars of the first chorus
are missing. Of the singers, by one of those unpleasant ironies,
Dermota - who sang in the 1954 performance - is on hand and
is a mellifluous and impressive presence, far superior to Patzak.
Angelo Mattiello’s Jesus is superior to Otto Wiener in Vienna
and Klose likewise to Rössl-Majdan. Hoffmann sings well but
is not quite Seefried’s equal.
The only constituency
for this will be Furtwängler completists who require every drop
of his rare Bach. Others should invest in the 1954 performance.