Once again we are confronted
by the good and the bad. As I’ve noted
repeatedly, if not exhaustively, throughout
my reviews of this series of Furtwängler’s
wartime material any dubious performances
were not included in DG’s own boxes
of these performances. Melodiya’s policy
has been to acknowledge the difficulty,
protest that these are nevertheless
overwhelmingly likely to be legitimately
his performances, and plough ahead regardless.
I remain as unconvinced as ever by this
approach, which is one that may very
well confuse the uninitiated especially
as the questions are addressed in the
poorly translated notes and not on the
jewel box itself.
This question relates
specifically to the Tiefland overture.
The conductor did most certainly conduct
the opera earlier in his career but
no evidence has been presented of which
I’m aware that this 1944 performance
of the overture is by him. As Stenka
Razin, and the Haydn symphony, purportedly
Furtwängler performances, have
now been shown not to be by him, it
would be wise to exercise similar reservations
over this performance. It’s well played
and equally well recorded but almost
certainly not by the conductor.
He recorded the overture
to Alceste commercially in Berlin in
1951 and a Vienna performance from 1954
has also survived. There’s quite a high
ration of hiss on this one but that’s
outweighed by the big-boned approach
and the romanticist instincts in full
cry. There’s a touch of pitch instability
at the end and the rather constricted
sound is a limiting factor, more so
in fact than the hiss.
The truly important
performance obviously is the Brahms.
This has been reissued a number of times
and is one of the most dramatic and
powerful inscriptions on record. Its
virtues are well enough known – and
all the more so when one contrasts it
with the surviving performance Furtwängler
gave with Aeschbacher the following
year, an altogether less inspired meeting.
Certainly the sound is splintery but
the performance is titanic, involving
and all-embracing in its emotional complexity.
Fischer is a soloist of intense and
spontaneous-sounding dynamism and his
finger slips are of incidental significance.
His playfulness alternates with thunderous
power and gravity. The demands of the
concerto are met with symphonic conviction
and the finale’s reconciliatory lightness
is, in these hands, a perfect summation
of the nervous power that had preceded
This is one of the
most miraculous of the wartime survivals
and a highlight of the series. It’s
been on the relevant DG box and most
recently on Testament where it’s coupled
with the conductor’s Adagio (Symphonic
Concerto) in the 1939 commercial recording
made by the two men in Berlin.