CD & Download: Pristine Classical
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op.60 (1806) [36:19]
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op.92 (1812) [37:53]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live,: 30 June 1943 (Op.60), 31 October-3 November 1943 (Op.92),
Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany. ADD
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC267 [74:12]
||Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806) [44:13]
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67 (1807) [33:27]
Erich Röhn (violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live, 12 January 1944 (Op.61), 30 June 1943 (Op.67), Alte Philharmonie,
Berlin, Germany. ADD
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC271 [77:41]
This pair of Pristine Audio releases reflect the work of restoration
engineer Andrew Rose. He used XR re-mastering to produce these
results in January and February 2011. The material he had to
work with was variable in quality. Not surprisingly there remains
some occasional fuzziness in the sound but the reduction in
background hiss is impressive. The worst coughing and general
audience noise has been removed and we are told that much of
the fierceness as a result of peak distortion has been effectively
smoothed. It’s still not absolutely perfect but Rose has
improved sound quality by a significant margin. I have these
recordings on other labels but I find them an uncomfortable
experience. Any remaining sound problems on the present discs
should be tempered by the historical significance of these recordings
and by the quite exceptional quality of the live performances.
Recorded in the midst of Second World War Berlin, Furtwängler
is widely accepted as one of the greatest conductors of the
last century. He left a fascinating and substantial audio legacy,
mainly from live performances that are cherished by a large
and enthusiastic group of devotees. Berlin-born Furtwängler
is best known for his long association with the Berlin Philharmonic
whom he first conducted in 1917. Succeeding Arthur Nikisch,
he became its principal conductor in 1922 at the age of 36 and
remained with them until his death in 1954; a tenure only interrupted
during the years 1945-47. Blacklisted by the Nazis and fearing
arrest he had fled to Switzerland a few months before the end
of the war. It was not until 1947 that he underwent successful
de-nazification and was permitted to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic
again, returning officially as their artistic director in 1950.
I was struck by the title that Peter Gutmann uses in the website
‘Classical Notes’, “Wilhelm Furtwängler:Genius
Forged in the Cauldron of War”. It encapsulates the
complex situation so perfectly. Hitler’s Third Reich under
Dr. Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry used the Berlin
Philharmonic and Furtwängler as the crown jewels in their
cultural campaign. Their role and the considerable advantages
they gained from working for the Third Reich still divides opinion.
Few conductors can have worked in such a severely pressurised
situation as he did from 1933 to 1945 - the years of National
Socialism in Germany.
The concert hall used for the present performances was the Alte
Philharmonie on Bernburger Straße, Berlin the home of
the orchestra since their first concert there in 1882. A former
ice-skating rink, the Alte Philharmonie was destroyed in an
Allied bombing raid on the night of the 29-30 January 1944.
Preserved here on Pristine Audio the afternoon concert held
on the Wednesday 12 January 1944 was recorded just seventeen
days before the hall was destroyed. That afternoon Furtwängler
was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a programme of the
Beethoven Violin Concerto with leader Erich Röhn
as soloist followed by Richard Strauss’s Symphonia
Domestica. Owing to bombing raids the Philharmonie concerts
at this time were mainly scheduled in the afternoons and on
Last year I was at the site of the former Alte Philharmonie
on Bernburger Straße now redeveloped into blocks of flats.
At the Bernburger Straße entrance to the former site there
is a tall but unpretentious archway marking the start of a simple
pathway leading onto the site with a metal plaque in the ground
that reads in German, “This path leads to the location
of the Old Philharmonic Hall 1882-1944.”
A number of Furtwängler’s wartime performances mainly
from the Alte Philharmonie were broadcast live by the state-owned
Reich Broadcasting Corporation and recorded on magnetic tape.
The sensitive omni-directional microphones in the hall were
connected to a small, windowless control room with a signal
sent down telegraph wire to the radio transmitter studio where
it was recorded on magnetophon tape recorders. Fortunately many
of these tapes survived. They were found and seized by the occupying
Soviet forces at the studios of the Reich Broadcasting Corporation
and taken back to Moscow. Some of the performances were released
in Soviet Russia on Melodiya. Thanks to Glasnost the tapes were
returned to Germany in 1987. It is these recordings, returned
after over forty years in Moscow, that Andrew Rose has used.
Although released on various labels I have these Furtwängler
mono recordings on two Collectors Edition boxes on Deutsche
Grammophon released in 2001. Both titled War Time Concerts
1942-44 volume 1 is a four disc set on 471 289-2 and volume
2 a five disc set on 471 294-2.
Much has been written about the sheer individuality of Furtwängler’s
interpretations. There is the sheer beauty of the sound, his
innate sense of the music’s structure, the incredible
energy generated and its towering emotional intensity. His conducting
has a sense of spontaneity and I am often surprised at his chosen
tempi and the boldness of the dynamics.
According Vogt’s list in Kleinert’s book Music
at its Best: The Berlin PhilharmonicA
Beethoven’s music accounts for nearly 10% of all Berlin
Philharmonic concerts between 1945 to 2000.
The Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op.60 was completed
in 1806. Beethoven actually stopped work on the Symphony
No. 5 to compose this B flat major score. Dedicated
to Count Franz von Oppersdorff who commissioned the score it
was first performed in 1807 at the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna.
Overshadowed and neglected to a degree as one of Beethoven’s
scoresin a lighter vein, the Fourth Symphony is
often judged as somehow inferior to many of his others. Furtwängler
clearly liked the score recording it on four occasions once
with the Berlin Philharmonic according to Roger Hunt’s
valuable Furtwängler discography and concert registerB.
PASC 267 offers Furtwängler’s live performance of
the Fourth. In the first movement the distinct pastoral accent
is underlined. The mysterious colouring develops into anguished
sobs. From the tremendous orchestral climax at 3:31 Furtwängler
holds the tension at such an elevated level that it becomes
almost unbearable. The Adagio whilst seeming relatively
calm on the surface has a vein of uneasy emotional anxiety.
Marked Allegro vivace the third movement is more of a
high energy Scherzo than a classical Minuet. With
an abundance of vibrant energy Furtwängler brings out the
music’s innate wit to such a pitch that its tales on a
sarcastic and almost mocking edge. The watchword in the closing
movement is exuberance. In addition there’s a wealth of
high spirits and good humour. The final Coda is a fleet-footed
dash to the finish line.
Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A major, Op.92 was
begun in 1811 and completed the next year. Dedicated to Count
Moritz von Fries it was Beethoven who conducted the première
in 1813 at Vienna. Wagner famously described the symphony as
the, “apotheosis of the dance.” Out of Furtwängler’s
repertoire the Symphony No.7 was the score that he conducted
the second most according to Hunt. He recorded it five times
of which two were with the Berlin Phil. This recording was made
at live broadcasts from the Alte Philharmonie, Berlin at a series
of four concerts with the same programme from 31 October-3 November
1943. On this occasion Furtwängler must have been eating
raw meat ensuring that the Seventh Symphony commences
with incredible force. He maintains a breathtaking intensity
and concentration throughout. In the gloomy march of the Allegretto
Furtwängler increases the weight and tension whilst always
remaining in total control. A substantial passage of a fresh
and pastoral outdoor quality provides a splendid contrast. Thrilling,
vigorous and witty, the Scherzo just races along. The
so-called ‘Pilgrims Hymn’ of the trio is played
with noticeable reverence by woodwind and horns leaving plenty
of room to breathe. With a whirling sense of unrelenting rhythmic
drive the final movement is played with immense power and great
reserves of energy. The orchestra shows its remarkable stamina
and ability to an elevated level of controlled intensity.
Beethoven had to rush to complete his Violin Concerto in
D major, Op.61 in time for its first performance given by
soloist Franz Clement in 1806 at Vienna. It has become one of
the best loved examples in the repertoire. Furtwängler
was clearly fond of it:he recorded the work on five occasions
three of which were with the Berlin Philharmonic as given in
On Pristine Audio PASC 271 the live recording of the Violin
Concerto was conducted by Furtwängler on Wednesday
12 January 1944 in the last concert he would conduct at the
Alte Philharmonie, Berlin. In the substantial opening movement
the splendour of the Berlin strings is evident right from the
introduction with the orchestra exhibiting awesome power. Röhn
is stately, resolute and assured with incredible control of
the euphonious high register. This is graceful and tender playing
- especially in the Larghetto. Again I was struck by
the firmness of his technique. One can only imagine how soothing
this glorious music must have seemed to the Philharmonie audience
taking a short cultural break from the horrors of wartime Berlin.
In theRondo: Allegro we hear the delights of Röhn’s
rich deep register contrasted expertly with the dancing high
notes. The way Furtwängler creates a thrilling doom-laden
climax in the Coda is remarkable. Throughout the concerto
Furtwängler provides support that is firm yet sympathetic
to the soloist.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 commenced
in 1804-5 and was completed in 1808. It is one of the most famous
works in the history of serious music. Beethoven dedicated the
score to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky. It was the thirty-eight
year old composer himself who directed the première of
the symphony at Vienna in December 1808. As listed in Hunt the
famous Fifth Symphony was the work that Furtwängler
conducted in performance the most frequently. Twelve times he
recorded the score including eight times with the Berlin Philharmonic.
One of those occasions was captured live on 30 June 1943 from
the Alte Philharmonie, Berlin and appears on this Pristine Audio
PASC 271 release. This is music of wide variation from scenes
of majestic Tyrolean splendour to a dramatic sense of the sheer
force of nature. Furtwängler provides an underlying sense
of dark menace running through the complete performance. Right
from the opening motifs enough power is engendered to shake
the foundations of the Berliner Dom. Sheer bold muscularity
firmly underpins proceedings. I was struck by the unity of the
Berlin orchestra with rock-solid playing from all sections.
I can image that Beethoven’s compassionate writing and
sensitive playing of the Andante con moto brought a few
tears to the eyes of many beleaguered Berliners in the audience.
Furtwängler makes sure the starkly contrasting passages
in Beethoven’s writing are given wholehearted energy.
Brass fanfares in the Scherzo: Allegro exude confidence
with textures that could have been hewn from granite. I found
the timbre and effect of the low strings quite remarkable. The
opening bars of the Allegro,Finale are quite magnificent
in music that makes a great impact. Furtwängler’s
imposing interpretation contains strength and power with a sure
sense of urgency yet the music always remains firmly rooted.
These two exceptional discs have real historical significance
and capture the true greatness of these live performances.
A ‘Music at its Best: The Berlin Philharmonic,
from Karajan to Rattle’ by Annemarie Kleinert. Published
by Books on Demand (2009). ISBN: 978-3-83706-361-5. Annemarie
Vogt’s list of most played composers pg.154.
B ‘The Furtwängler Sound’ 6th edition
- discography with concert register. compiled by John Hunt.
Published John Hunt (1999). ISBN: 978-1-901395-97-6.