Johannes BRAHMS  (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C Op.68 (1868) [47:10]
Symphony No. 1 in C Op.68 (1868) - finale [16:57]
Symphony No. 2 in D Op.73 (1869) [38:20]
Symphony No. 3 in F Op.90 (1883) [41:22]
Symphony No. 4 in E Op.98 (1885) [39:54]
Variations on a theme by Haydn Op.56a (1873) [19:51]# & [20:49] *
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat Op.83 [47:10]
Edwin Fischer (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1 - finale, 3, 4, Haydn#, concerto) North German Radio Orchestra (1, Concerto, Haydn*) Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (2)/Wilhelm Furtwängler,
rec. 8 November 1942, Berlin (concerto) 12-15 December 1943, Berlin (4, Haydn#) 28 January 1945, Vienna (2) 27 October 1951, Hamburg (Concerto, Haydn*) 23 January 1945, Berlin (1 - finale) 27 April 1954, Berlin (3)
MUSIC & ARTS CD-4941 [4 CDs: 64:27 + 75:20 + 60:00 + 68:05]
I think it’s sensible for Music & Arts to revisit and reissue its Brahms-Furtwängler restorations. The bulk dates from 1996, whilst the final disc was originally released in 1999. Restorations are by Maggi Payne. The four discs are priced as for three. The notes derive from John Ardoin’s The Furtwängler Record (Amadeus Press, 1994) and have largely influenced the selection, which is predicated on the most convincing surviving performance. In most circumstances that would mean the surviving wartime broadcasts but there is no complete wartime First, and no wartime Third at all. So, augmented as this set is with two separate Haydn variations performances, and the 1942 Edwin Fischer Brahms Second Concerto, we have a powerful box that will make renewed claims on the collector.
The First Symphony was actually recorded in the studio in 1942 (or 1944, no one seems sure) but that performance has had a strange afterlife; it made it to a Japanese LP but has had restricted currency. The single surviving movement from Berlin in January 1945 is however included as an appendix, as it were, to the North German Radio performance of 1951. The Berlin finale indicates what we have missed - it’s amazingly powerful. But the 1951 inscription is notably granitic and purposeful, its tread inexorable from the opening paragraph, the slow movement flooded with an aristocratic plangency, the finale - whilst not as determined as the Berlin - still notably fine. The Second Symphony (Vienna, January 1945) represents his last wartime concert in the city. Tempi are unexceptional; not unlike the tempi Stokowski took, in fact. There are the expected chair squeaks and some other noises off not least from the audience, but this performance, given so soon after that titanic Berlin First, carries over to Vienna something of the same sense of engagement and barely suppressed energy in the finale, and affectingly moulded slow movement. Though there is a later Berlin performance, in addition to the well known studio London Philharmonic Decca traversal, this is the Furtwängler No. 2 to have.
He was not the first - and nor will he be the last - to have had trouble charting the Third’s topography. The dangers of a generic expressive response are evident from this Berlin performance of April 1954, given not long before his death. There are two other surviving documents, one from Berlin in 1949 and the other with his orchestra on tour in Turin in May 1954. Once again Music & Arts has gone with Ardoin’s selection of the April 1954 reading as the best survivor. He played it less often than the other symphonies, and its sense of weightiness - physical, spiritual - is allied to too free a sense of metrical flexibility. The Fourth, by contrast, is another story wholly. The December 1943 performance is the first to survive and demonstrates all the moist vivid, driving qualities to be expected of his wartime inscriptions. It is full too of expressive gestures, full of heightening devices, but ones that never derail the mighty symphonic argument that the conductor is elucidating.
The well-known Fischer performances has a few gruff moments and dropped notes but it too is wartime and thus very passionate, The two Haydn variations comes from wartime Berlin - the same sessions that gave us the Fourth - and from the same Hamburg concert that gave us the First Symphony.
In newly restored form, this box represents the best of Furtwängler’s Brahms.
Jonathan Woolf  

In newly restored form, this box represents the best of Furtwängler’s Brahms.