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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3 in E flat major Op.55 Eroica (1804) [53:09]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. December 1944
TAHRA FURT 2008 [53:09]

Experience Classicsonline

The list of preserved Furtwängler Eroicas is a long one. There are at least nine of which I’m aware, ranging from this Vienna performance in 1944 to two Berlin performances in 1952. The only other orchestra with which he left behind an Eroica was the RAI. Still, this wartime performance is, in my experience, the most overwhelming and magnificent of them all. It’s a reading of the utmost gravity and eloquence and one of the conductor’s greatest explorations of a symphonic statement.

The power here is trenchant but not overbearing, and the tempo adjustments in the first movement alone a remarkable example of his convincing control of musical ebb and flow. The sense of immediacy is coruscating and the directional pull of the music is pretty well unrivalled. Its logic and force emerge as if anew. And the Funeral March is here a supreme statement – intense but somehow still composed, still eloquently controlled. The marshalling of horns and trumpets brings an intensely nobility of expression. This is a performance that releases the intensity of the work in a way that his post-War performances didn’t quite manage. Later he evoked a more classical nobility which, whilst it proved preferable in Schubert’s Ninth, didn’t perhaps suit the Eroica so well.

I last encountered this performance on Melodiya MEL CD 10 01106 coupled with Stenka Razin – once claimed to be conducted by Furtwängler but long since known to have been directed by Leo Borchard.

Tahra originally issued this Eroica in 1998 in their Furtwängler edition [FURT 1031] but have now revisited their transfer. The first thing to note is that it is now in SACD. Also, Tahra has utilised a copy of the original archive tape, and re-pitching proved necessary.

The result sounds splendid. There is great immediacy and intensity in the sound – which perfectly reflects the tumultuous nature of the performance. There is far more clarity too than the Melodiya, and the tape hiss level is not particularly noticeable unless you play the disc at a very high volume. The notes aptly outline the history of this performance and its subsequent release incarnations and ensuing legal complications.

Jonathan Woolf










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