Let me add one more
to life’s two certainties; taxes, death
and bloody hard work with Andromeda.
These people are like basking sharks,
forever doomed to swim the discographic
depths jaws open in search of reusable
plankton. They’ve recently gone mad
and issued two huge sets devoted to
surviving live Bruckner from Knappertsbusch
and, as here, Furtwängler. They
bulk out the sets with weird, undigested
morsels; Rosamunde and two of Debussy’s
Nocturnes in this one alongside the
rather more explicable Tannhäuser
overture - but the recording from Caracas.
Fêtes is unidiomatic; Furtwängler’s
attitude to Debussy was in any case
simultaneously arrogant and provincial.
Since one of the most
familiar features of Furtwängler’s
discography is the pitiful lack of a
commercially recorded complete Bruckner
symphony we all know what we’re getting
here. But let me spell it out for you
anyway. These particular Vienna and
Berlin Philharmonic performances are
really too well trodden by now to cause
any surprises but you’ll want to know
what’s on offer.
The Fourth is the Munich
performance by the Vienna Phil given
in October 1951. It’s been out often
enough – older timers might have caught
it on Priceless D14228, Palette PAL1074
or on Virtuoso 369-7372. Newer comers
will have picked it up on Orfeo C559
022 1 – a two CD set. As a performance
it is probably inferior to the better
recorded one in Stuttgart, which was
given a week earlier. This Munich performance
is not quite as responsive or as well
played. Nevertheless the immensity of
the transitions will compel interest
either pro or contra. The audience is
rather restive especially, of course,
in the slow movement. As usual he plays
the Schalk-Löwe edition.
The Fifth is one of
four wartime broadcasts in this set.
It was given in Berlin in October 1942.
Others find the actual sound splendid
but I find it rather occluded for its
time. The heft of it however still registers
powerfully. And the performance is better
performed and one should probably concede
better conducted than the post-war Vienna
Philharmonic performance from Salzburg.
In Berlin things are tougher hewn and
powerfully impressive; the audience
coughs and horn fluffs are here insignificant.
This performance has been out on Music
and Arts CD538 and on the DG set 427
7742/427 7732. You may possibly have
come across it on Bella Musica BMF 967.
Unfortunately the first
movement of the Sixth has not survived.
In any case this wasn’t a work which
the conductor found especially congenial.
He first performed it shortly before
this broadcast – November 1943 – and
then never returned to it. This is the
only survivor and the more to be valued
for that reason but obviously recommendation
is limited by reason of its being a
torso. It’s been out on Tahra.
The Seventh was on
Hunt CDWFE362 and Music and Arts CD698.
This one is from Rome 1951 with the
touring Berlin orchestra which I have
always preferred to the strangely uncommitted
Cairo performance of the same year.
Neither however is preferable to the
best version, the 1949 Berlin – a towering
achievement, memorably expressive.
No.8 is with the Vienna
Philharmonic, recorded there in October
1944, ten days after the final recording
in this set, that of the Ninth Symphony.
The Eighth was on Toshiba CE28 5757-8,
also on DG (Japan) POCC2346 and probably
most usually for the majority Music
and Arts CD764 and Tahra FURT 1084-1087.
This one has a blazing authority and
commitment; the adagio is immense and
tragic, unerringly and compellingly
directed. The sound is immediate. He
uses the modified Haas edition here
whereas later in Vienna he used the
The Ninth was on DG
(Japan) POCC 2347 and DG 445 418-2GX2
and Music and Arts CD 730. It’s slightly
less well recorded than the Eighth but
it is the only surviving example of
his way with this symphony. We know
from his own testimony that a performance
in St Florian three days later than
this preserved one was of great significance
to him. But this one could scarcely
have been less fine, so intense and
searing is the resultant performance.
This is probably the most consistently
impressive and utterly necessary of
all Furtwängler Bruckner recordings.
Andromeda is not known
for effecting any significant changes
to source material. But the advantages
of this set, are twofold - price and
drawing together disparate material
into one box.