Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 C major, Op. 21 (1799/1800) [24:37]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1801/02) [32:25]
Leonora Overture No. 3, Op. 72b (1806) [15:18]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (Op. 21)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (Op. 36, Op. 72b)
rec. live, 19 September 1954, Titania Palast, Berlin (Op. 21); live, 3 October 1948, Royal Albert Hall, London (Op. 36); 18 October 1953, Musikvereinssaal, Vienna (Op. 72b)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ‘Pastoral’ (1807/08) [44:27]
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 (1812) [25:45]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (Op. 68)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (Op. 93)
rec. 24-25 September, 1 October 1952, Musikverein, Vienna (Op. 68); live, 14 April 1953, Titania Palast, Berlin (Op. 93);
This pair of Beethoven releases conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler is from the Pristine Audio label who specialise in the restoration and re-mastering of historic recordings. Restoration engineer Andrew Rose has carried out the XR re-mastering. In the booklet notes Rose explains in some detail the variable quality of the material he had to work with. As far as I know these performances have been all released previously on other labels and I know three of the five performances. Bearing in mind the real historic significance of the Furtwängler performances my criterion for judging success is being able to enjoy them without the sound quality intruding too much.
Furtwängler is widely accepted as being one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth-century. He left a fascinating and substantial audio legacy including a substantial number of live events that are cherished by a large and enthusiastic group of devotees. Much has been written about the sheer individuality of Furtwängler’s interpretations. There is the sheer beauty of the sound that he demands, his innate sense of the music’s structure, the incredible energy produced and the remarkable emotional intensity generated. Furtwängler’s conducting has a sense of spontaneity and I am often surprised at his fluctuating tempi and bold dynamics. Whether or not his idiosyncrasies are invasive will be very much down to personal choice.
It might prove useful to have some context for these recordings. Furtwängler is best known for his association with the BPO whom he first conducted in December 1917; however he had long associations with several other orchestras that are often forgotten. In 1922 he succeeded Artur Nikisch as principal conductor of the BPO serving in Berlin until his death in 1954, a tenure that was interrupted between the years 1945-47. The BPO was almost certainly the world’s most famous orchestra, and probably still is and right through the Second World War they served as the cultural flagship of Hitler’s Third Reich. Blacklisted by the Nazis and fearing arrest Furtwängler fled to Switzerland in February 1945 a few months before the end of the war. During his absence Leo Borchard who was Moscow born of German parents, an obvious favourite of the occupying Russian forces, was appointed to the post. After only a few months Borchard with the orchestra was fatally shot by an American sentry after a misunderstanding at a Berlin check-point. Romania Sergiu Celibidache became an intermediate appointment as principal conductor and was in effect keeping the seat warm until Furtwängler was allowed to return to the BPO. After his successful de-Nazification process in December 1946 Furtwängler, who was extremely popular with the majority of the players, was cleared to return. He began conducting his first concerts in May 1947 returning officially as the orchestra’s principal conductor in 1950 and remaining until his death in 1954.
Furtwängler was active too as a conductor in Vienna conducting there as early as 1918 with the Wiener Symphoniker and then in 1919 with the Tonkünstler-Orchester. Furtwängler’s close association with the VPO began in 1922 when he conducted the orchestra for the first time. He succeeded Felix Weingartner as the regular conductor of the subscription concerts from 1927/30. When the VPO ceased their single subscription concert conductor system Furtwängler in effect became the main conductor serving from 1933 to 1945, and again from 1947 to 1954. Furtwängler had fixtures with the VPO on more than 500 occasions until August 1954; shortly before he died in November that year.
The first disc Pristine Audio PACD 355 has him conducting the BPO in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 2, and the VPO in the Symphony No.2, Op. 36 and Leonora Overture No.3, Op.72b.
The Symphony No. 1 was recorded live at the Titania Palast cinema, Berlin. The reason for the choice of a cinema in which to hold their concerts is an interesting one. On the night of the 29-30 January 1944 the home of the BPO the (alte) Philharmonie onBernburger Straße, Berlin was destroyed in a six hour Allied bombing raid. After this the BPO was forced to use a variety of temporary venues. Miraculously the Titania Palast cinema in Berlin remained unscathed throughout the bombing, and became their principal concert hall for number of years. On a visit to Berlin back in September I noticed that the Titania Palast still exists today as multiplex cinema.
Furtwängler played the same programme at the Titania Palast on 19-20 September 1954. This live recording of the Symphony No. 1 is from the first of those two concerts. The concert on 20 September turned out to be Furtwängler’s last ever appearance on the concert stage. This was ‘big band’ Beethoven with Furtwängler presiding over a weighty and commanding performance. The deep resonance of the low strings typically underpins the playing with a rich tonal power. Furtwängler’s forceful reading of the restless Menuetto was strikingly direct. Forthright and jubilant the assured drama of the Finale left an intensely satisfying impression. After becoming accustomed to the bright sound quality I hardly felt distracted from the performance. I noted that no applause was left in at the end of any of the five works featured on these two discs. 
The Symphony No.2 with the touring VPO was recorded live on the 3 October 1948 at the Royal Albert Hall, London. This was Furtwängler’s only known recording of the Symphony No.2 and was discovered as late as 1979. Using often furious speeds in the opening movement Furtwängler mixes a rich palette that splendidly displays the glories of the Vienna orchestra. An uplifting picture of Alpine vistas is revealed in the Larghetto and there’s a frequently mischievous Scherzo. There’s a fresh and squally quality to the joyous yet frequently tempestuous Finale. From 1948 this is the oldest recording on the two releases and presents the most challenging sonics. My ears soon became attuned to the sound quality.
The Leonora Overture No.3 was recorded by Furtwängler and the VPO under studio conditions on 18 October 1953 at the Musikvereinssaal, Vienna. This highly charged and distinctive interpretation is overflows with exhilaration. No problems whatsoever with the sound. It comes over splendidly for its sixty years.
The second disc on Pristine Audio PASC 359 comprises Furtwängler’s recordings of symphonies 6 with the VPO and 8 with the BPO.
He recorded this uplifting and very beautiful Pastoral with the VPO under studio conditions at the Musikvereinssaal, Vienna on 24-25 September and 1 October 1952. The judiciously controlled opening movement entitled ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country’ evokes long and warm summer days in the countryside. Relatively unforced and affectionate the AndanteBy the brook’ is followed by the gloriously appealing AllegroHappy gathering of country folk’ notable for the woodwind and brass figures. The fourth movement AllegroThunderstorm;Storm’ is powerful and unsettling - almost frightening in its intensity. The Allegretto: FinaleShepherds' song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm’ is splendidly atmospheric, conveying a captivating sense of redemption. The studio sound felt satisfying providing no real distraction from the music-making.
For Symphony No. 8 Furtwängler conducts the BPO live at the Titania Palast, Berlin on 14 April 1953. There is a powerful and deeply resonant feel to the opening of the first movement Allegro vivace e con brio. I was able to visualise a magnificent Alpine scene as if viewing from a snow-capped mountain peak. Neither a Scherzo nor a slow movement, the second movement is good-humoured and joyous yet a sense of volatility is never far away. The surprisingly weighty Menuetto seems to strive for a stately character without achieving complete success. The complex Finale with its lengthy and mighty Coda is highly charged and swells with optimism. I can report good sound quality with nothing to divert the attention too much. 

Pristine Audio has done a marvellous job with these Beethoven transfers which should prove indispensable for Furtwängler admirers.
Michael Cookson
Pristine Audio has done a marvellous job with these Beethoven transfers which should prove indispensable for Furtwängler admirers. 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven Symphony 1 ~~ Symphony 2 ~~ Symphony 6 ~~ Symphony 8

Pristine Classical: PASC355 ~~ PASC359