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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Alceste (1776) - Overturea [8'28].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No. 10 in B flat, K361/K370ab (1781-84) [49'18]. Serenade No. 13 in G, K525, Eine kleine Nachtmusikc (1787) [14'23].
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. a28 October 1942, b11, 26 November, 3 December 1947, c1 April 1949. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110994 [72'08]

 

It is difficult to imagine more doom-laden Gluck than the Alceste Overture featured here. Furtwängler aims straight for the composer's emotional heart and hits bullseye. There is plenty here to invite ridicule from authenticists, it is true, but surely even the most die-hard period-instrument follower cannot deny Furtwängler's excavation of Gluck's basic instincts - and, in doing so, Gluck's ability to shock? There is so much to admire, not least the positively beautiful string sound at around 7'33.

This is not the only Alceste Overture from Furtwängler, but it is the earliest - there exist versions from 1951 and 1954 also - not that one would guess it from the excellence of these transfers (Ward Marston). The Mozart 'Gran partita' emerges out of the Gluck effortlessly. It was recorded in the Brahmssaal of the Musikverein with Walter Legge as Producer. Douglas Larter did the engineering honours.

The Wind Serenade K361 is given a reading of such gravitas yet with such an awareness of life in all its guises that it surely cannot be bettered, There is a transcendental rightness about it all that comes from pure unanimity of approach. The players are at once at one with Furtwängler and on top form. Warmth is the watchword for the two slow movements, and indeed it is the Adagio third movement that is the crowning glory of the disc; it is, in fairness, almost matched by the Romance, the fifth movement. If there is a criticism, it is that the finale (Molto allegro) could be more unbuttoned, but then again frolickery was never really Furtwängler's thing ...

The Serenade, K525 Eine kleine Nachtmusik, is the later of the Furtwängler readings; there exists one from 1936/7 with the Berlin players. It is a nice idea on Naxos's part to balance a wind-only piece with strings-only, but it has to be admitted that it is not on the same exalted level. Over-serious and towards the end of the second movement almost luxuriant, this big-blooded account simply needs more life. In fairness the finale nods at last in this direction.

An important release, well engineered, on the strength of K361 which luckily takes the lion's share of the playing time. The other two items are of interest to investigators of performance practice in various eras of old (Alceste) and to completists (K525).

Colin Clarke

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