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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (original version)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. 7 October 1944, Beethovensaal, Berlin
Broadcast: Deutschlandsender DDR, 25th January 1966 (commemorating Furtwängler’s 80th birthday)
Source: private archive (2 Track Reel to reel Tape, 7.5 IPS)
GRAND SLAM RECORDS GS-2220 [57:31]

Wilhelm Furtwängler’s only known recording of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony has long been regarded as one of the touchstone performances of this work. Indeed, for many it stands as one of the very greatest monuments to both the conductor and the Bruckner discography: a Holy Grail of Ninths. One view is that you have to look very far indeed to find any recording that comes close to matching the gut-wrenching power and breathtaking intensity of what Furtwängler achieved on October 7, 1944. Another one – perfectly valid in my view, although it’s entirely idiomatic of the conductor – is that the performance is a bit of a mess. It’s musically unintelligible – like unreadable calligraphy – and prone to playing from the Berliners which borders on the lazy. All of this is true – although fails to address the central fact the performance ignites the kind of musical drama you get from throwing kerosine on note after note.

This Bruckner Ninth, however, will always leave unanswered questions by virtue of the fact there is no other recording either prior to or after the one Furtwängler gave during the war. And perhaps this is as it should be given the qualities of it, although it is not an isolated case. The sheer number of great wartime performances that Furtwängler gave might have been inspired by him believing they would be his last; there is often a sense of apocalyptic finality to many of them. This was never the case in his pre-war records; and it was only fleetingly evident in those he would make after 1947, when he was free to make recordings again.

Furtwängler’s wartime performances – of a few of the composers he conducted – are unique in this conductor’s output for their power, their anger and their despair – and I think of defiance. His Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Sibelius (that single, but astonishing, En Saga) and Wagner document this. Perhaps it was never a surprise that after the war some of his performances would become more troubled, inward-looking, and soul-searching; Furtwängler’s Bach, and some of his Beethoven and Brahms, for example. But there were exceptions. The astonishing Brahms First in Hamburg – a mighty force of turbulence and torrential weight that seems such a massive mirror of Furtwängler’s instability. It comes close to being his personal Testament so angry is this forceful musical document. It’s a Brahms for the ages. Quite the opposite is the unusual personal solemnity, faith and even forgiveness he brought to his St Matthew’s Passion. The abridged versions from Buenos Ares and Vienna are imperfect; the Vienna studio has even more imperfections, but these are solemn creations. That greatest of works, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, which Furtwängler last conducted in 1930, would forever remain beyond him. So much of Furtwängler’s art is a demonstration that you need not have had a rifle in your hands to have seen the war at first hand; a conductor’s baton was often enough. But when music is often seen as a great healer, a unifier and can even feel pacifist in times of war it’s often hard to imagine that German audiences might have found comfort in some of Furtwängler’s wartime concerts.

In the opening days of 1944, the Berlin Philharmonie was destroyed. Shortly before, there had been the towering performance of the Beethoven violin concerto which Furtwängler gave with Erich Röhn. Beethoven, more than any other composer, would provide many of Furtwängler’s great wartime performances: the Ninth (March,1942), the Fifth (1943), an Eroica (1944) – not to mention the nine-minutes of a shattering 1943 Coriolan Overture – simply unmatched by anyone else – that has the Berlin Philharmonic sounding as if they are cracking open the earth – or, in another interpretation perhaps just responding to allied shell fire. All are amongst the greatest of Beethoven recordings. Bruckner wouldn’t be far behind, although it is more a case of incompletion. The truncated Bruckner Fourth from 1941, infuriatingly recorded so shortly before magnetic tape became common, is nevertheless incendiary. The 1941 Bruckner Seventh lacks even more of its music (including the entire final movement). The 1943 Bruckner Sixth is missing the first movement, all the more tragic given the molten power and Wagnerian architecture of what Furtwängler did with the rest of the symphony. And then there is the Ninth – absolutely complete – from 1944 – a radio broadcast performed without an audience. Furtwängler’s wartime Bruckner says much from so little.

Despite the many great performances that Furtwängler gave during the early years of the Second World War, there is something entirely different about many of the ones that emerged from 1944. The impending collapse of Germany, the brutality that was suffered by the German people, the destruction that rained down on its cities almost daily released more horror and terror in the music Furtwängler conducted in that single year than had been the case beforehand. They were harrowing, often furious portraits of composers which were singular in their visceral power. And they are draining to listen to. He would have to leave the city to achieve entirely different results. When he left for Vienna he would end up making two great recordings. On 17th October he would play one of the most divine of Bruckner Eighths, and in December 1944, the result would end up being the “Eroica”, now widely regarded as the greatest performance of the symphony ever made. You could write a book about these two recordings – are these the results of Furtwängler the pacifist or of Furtwängler constructing a vision of a new world?

These Vienna performances are considerably more elegant and refined than anything we hear in Berlin. If the VPO was not entirely untouched by the war, this was not the case with BPO. And nor were the orchestras remotely comparable. Many of the Berlin Philharmonic recordings are monumental; the scale of the orchestra sounds outsized, and it plays with colossal weight. Because Furtwängler was never entirely concerned with precision, the BPO often sound brutal and raw. But when everything did fall into place, the impact could be overwhelming. A more unusual theory to test is that the BPO’s performances from this period can sound noticeably defiant against the Third Reich; Viennese performances, on the other hand, can sound like statements of appeasement towards it. It may, or may not, be a coincidence that there were more Nazi Party members in the VPO than there were in the BPO. Even if this were the case, by the end of 1944 Furtwängler was clearly making recordings in Vienna that were markedly dissimilar to those he was making in Berlin.

So, on to the Ninth and this new remastering of it.

The Beethovensaal Bruckner Ninth is probably the most incendiary, chilling and terrifying of performances because the Berliners play it like this; but, as I have implied, it is also because of the conditions under which it was recorded. But it is something else, too. It is an entirely atheist, Godless and spiritually void performance as well. What a pity we don’t have the St Florian Bruckner Ninth he performed on the 11th October 1944 (with the Bruckner-Orchester Linz) because it would almost certainly have reached the spiritual heights Furtwängler surely intended this symphony to rise to. We don’t need to second guess this; Furtwängler all but implied it himself. It’s almost fitting the St Florian Ninth would be his final performance of this Bruckner symphony and would close the chapter of his history with this work which had begun with his very first public concert on 19th February 1906 in Munich. The Beethovensaal, however, is not St Florian so perhaps the vision here is entirely as it is intended to be: more secular, more human and in the end more grounded in the rhetoric of collapse and destruction. But, how mighty it is too.

The performance itself should be very familiar to most people. Like his March 1942 Beethoven Ninth, there are sections of this Bruckner Ninth that are taken in extremis. All great Furtwängler performances take significant liberties with the scores – it is what ultimately makes him the unique and extraordinarily creative conductor he is – and Bruckner’s Ninth is not an exception to this.

Tempi clash with quite violent effect, especially in the first movement. You hear it within the first few minutes, in fact. Never the most static of conductors to watch, you can suddenly imagine Furtwängler jolted by a current of electricity during the more than usually frenetic ascent of the Berlin strings. What starts as measured, becomes torrid – but recordings of this broadcast have always struggled to convey the angst of its vision. Despite this, Furtwängler – ever the conductor to create the most infinite of crescendos despite the most elastic of tempos – suddenly gives us lyricism of endless beauty. With Furtwängler there is the illusion of always creating a space between each note to give that sense of infinity, that Furtwängler arc; his tempos, no matter how complex the music, or long it might be, project these astonishing curves. With Karajan it never sounded quite this free or easy. Most conductors know where they are going in this movement, but with Furtwängler it’s as if he sees the coda before he begins the first bar; with other conductors they have to work from the first bar to find the coda. And in this titanic opening movement it’s all about the coda.

Bruckner has already given the movement several colossal climaxes, each in some way erupting from the previous one – but then from all of this comes a magical passage of brilliant cadence that tempts you towards horns announcing the beginning of the coda. As with all Brucknerian codas the threading of earlier material is masterly done – only the Eighth and the Fifth rival the Ninth – but with this one Bruckner has written one that is more terrifying: consume, or be consumed. Furtwängler descends into its black darkness to emerge from it like an unrelenting, unstoppable pyroclastic cloud. So many performances of this symphony on disc will be swallowed by this volcanic dust, choked off before they can meet its final bar.

The savage second movement, fundamentally a Scherzo, is the one that has largely suffered less in transfers of Furtwängler performances of the Ninth. But this movement is prone to trip conductors up. This is not like your typical Bruckner scherzo – and the Trio itself is even more radical, not least because it is in a tempo that is quicker than the Scherzo reversing what we normally hear. Bruckner asks for the Scherzo to begin ‘bewegt; lebhaft’ (with a further marking of ‘allmächlich bewegter’). Bruckner marks the beginning of the Trio ‘schnell’.

Conductors, even though they have been loose with tempi in the outer movements, have taken even more latitude with the tempo of the Scherzo starting at such a ferocious speed that the Trio can’t sustain its own. Furtwängler begins very fast and by the time we get to the Trio he has nowhere to go – except slow down, which he does. Towards the end of the Trio he speeds up to try and get back into (the wrong) tempo. Furtwängler is far from alone is doing this, but the performance is demonic, thrilling and in many ways a tour de force.

And so to the Adagio. This is the most torturous and painstaking music that Bruckner ever wrote. This vast movement often sounds as if Furtwängler is going through a kind of Inquisition – and with it a turbulence of emotion or rite of discovery.

The movement is in one sense a fight between harmony, dissonance and the dominant, but it is also one between lightness and darkness. The music can often go off in directions unplanned – unexpected keys, the dominant E constantly foiled. When the great crescendo arrives – built from the second, not the first theme – it is of a magnitude not really expressed before in Bruckner’s symphonies. It is vast, almost as if a conductor is rock-climbing towards its final chord. It shocks because of its very dissonance, plainly on C-sharp minor and yet despite that will melt in to one of Bruckner’s most elusively gentle – and yet unresolved – codas. And this is a Brucknerian coda that doesn’t end as they normally do – it’s soulful, reflective and leaves unanswered questions. Furtwängler’s performance of the Adagio is unsettled; it’s like looking at an unfinished painting that you know will always be unfinished: Michelangelo’s The Entombment or David’s The Death of Marat. And with Furtwängler, his ending is so mystical and unresolved it would never get that resolution.

There are many anomalies when it comes to the sound quality of Furtwängler’s wartime recordings. Both the 1942 “Prelude and Liebestod” to Tristan und Isolde and the 1943 Coriolan Overture sound quite superb. The January 1944 Beethoven Violin Concerto and the Brahms First from January 1945 – of which only the final movement exists – and which was interrupted by allied bombing – also sound magnificent. Given the trying circumstances under which many of these concerts were given it’s remarkable any recordings exist at all – let alone that the sound should be as good as it is. The Bruckner Ninth, in reasonable sound, could almost be seen as a disappointment beside these other recordings. One possible reason is that it was made under studio conditions where the acoustic has come across as drier; there’s no audience to absorb the orchestra’s sound, a lack of warmth here and there which gives an edginess to specific instruments. Indeed, ambient temperature almost certainly was a factor in the making of this recording. And then there’s the smaller hall – the Beethovensaal – itself.

But there is at least another factor to consider: the scale of this particular symphony and almost certainly Furtwängler’s handling of it. The way he placed instruments in the orchestra differed slightly over the years – with the two constants in the strings of antiphonal violins, and double-basses on the same side as the first violins. No matter which recordings you listen to, the Berlin strings sound a certain way under Furtwängler and they rarely deviated from it. This Ninth does push crescendos, often to the limits of what the radio tapes can do. The Berliners can sound outsized, although the orchestra was not always playing at its full strength during the war – even if it sounds as if does. He did not notably pack his players closer together but the concentration of sound occasionally implies he might have. Some instruments sound more aggressive than others; the brass in particular penetrate like steel and can shred the nerves a little.

Almost all LP and CD releases of the Bruckner Ninth have suffered from identical problems, some of which are beyond repair (which is acknowledged in the booklet notes) – the beginning of the string ascent in the first movement, for example. The first movement coda has universally suffered from overload, although the few labels who have tried to repair that (Praga, Pristine) have gone on to reduce its impact considerably – although thinking you can use stereo is not a solution. There is a major problem on every mastering with a barely audible bottom line and a weak middle one which only serves to over emphasise the problems above the stave. Violins especially grate, often to a degree that the margin or ratio of “music” to “noise” is in danger of vanishing. At the opening of the Adagio, and depending on which label you hear, trombones and horns are either projected loudly, or they are muted: only one of these can be the correct way that Furtwängler wanted these bars to sound. DG have always given us the former, no matter whether their releases have been from Germany, Japan or France; Praga and Andromeda mute the brass. Their approaches are at least uniform throughout the symphony – but there are no clues as to which way Furtwängler preferred the brass played unless we go back to how they are played in other Bruckner symphonies for clues. There are no benefits whatsoever to converting this performance into stereo because the problems I have identified with it exist if the source material remains the same; and it does. In the better transfers the symphony sounds in proportion; in the weakest it does not. I have written in more detail about this in a forthcoming article The Furtwängler Bruckner Ninth and its Discography.

Performances of this Bruckner Ninth first appeared on CD in 1991, when DG released it – although it had only appeared on LP in 1963. This is not one of the German broadcasts known to have been taken by the Russians after they entered Germany from the east (including Berlin, of course) and which would later be issued on Melodiya. DG have always held source tapes in one form or another of the Bruckner Ninth – just not the original pressings (no one has to date). Deryck Cooke’s review, in Gramophone, of the LP release back in December 1963 mentioned the poor sound, something which has haunted this recording ever since. What Cooke also wrote was that any improvement in audio quality could only come from closely following the score of the symphony. This is not something which I think many of the LP and CD reissues of this performance have noted to do.

An LP first appeared in Japan in 1964 but not in the same format as the German issue. SMG-1450, the Japanese LP on the Tulip label, would be a (pseudo) stereo pressing – and the performance would be described as “1944, Berlin, Berlin Radio”. This was an improvement on the German LPs which must have had two pressings because one only dated the performance – the other had no information at all. And it doesn’t appear to be until the POCG2347 Polydor CD in 1994 that the venue – the Beethovensaal – first appears on a label. For many years, too, there was also confusion around the kind of conditions under which this recording had been made. The booklet notes direct the reader to Fred K. Prieberg’s Trial of Strength – Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Third Reich. In a note dated 2nd November 1944 (almost a month after the recording), Hans Fritzsche notes that Furtwängler was “causing the broadcasting organisation difficulties… he broke off the recording… [of Brahms’s Third]… on the basis the Beethovensaal was too small – while only a short time before he had conducted… Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony in the same hall, although it has to be said he did not complete the last fifteen minutes of that either.” (Prieberg, pp 319-320). That last comment does open up the question of how long Furtwängler took over this performance of the Ninth. According to Naoya Hirabayashi’s notes here, the answer to that one can be found in the booklet to Wilhelm Furtwängler: The Radio Recordings – nineteen-and-a-half hours.

Hirabayashi’s own label, Grand Slam, released their own version of the Bruckner Ninth in 2020, and it is this one which is reviewed here. It is strikingly fresh, and from a new source in East Germany. I have previously reviewed some of the Japanese Grand Slam label Furtwängler CDs for Musicweb, most recently the Cairo Tchaikovsky Sixth which I compared with the Pristine version, which was also under review. There is a Pristine mastering of this Bruckner Ninth (in stereo) – John Hunt recommends it in his last Furtwängler discography, published almost a decade ago, as the preferred version, although this was before others appeared such as the Praga and the Berliner Philharmoniker Radio recordings, as well, of course, this Grand Slam one.

The Grand Slam is unusual in many ways. It is not, we are led to believe, a straightforward remastering of an existing source – and there are a few pointers to it being different when you hear it. There is some tape degradation, more than there is on the DG copy. There is a certain crudeness to the sound which isn’t present on the other remasterings, either. In fact, it’s very raw, almost what you might expect on one of the Russian Melodiya pressings. A rumble, which you will hear at the opening of the first movement, is persistent but only noticeable in quieter passages. There is still an issue with overload, but it is of a different kind. On the other hand, it completely revolutionises the picture we hear of this performance. It’s the equivalent of removing years of varnish from an old painting.

Is it what is says it is? Well, it most definitely is the 1944 Furtwängler Bruckner Ninth. It has been produced by a first-rate engineer, Naoya Hirabayashi. He normally works from reel-to-reel and his source material is usually impeccable. His remasterings are not usually so interventionist that the original performance is entirely reworked. Indeed, many of his Furtwängler discs have retained a considerable fidelity to the original performances – it is just he has often worked from reel-to-reel to get the sound he wants. Not everyone likes his work; at his best, however, he is a formidable producer. Recent releases of two Berlin “Eroicas”– from 1950 and 1952 – are magnificent.

The circumstances surrounding how this particular Bruckner broadcast came about– and why it should be now – are a little misty. Perhaps even more than that. The performance appears to have come from Deutschlandsender DDR, one of the East German broadcasting stations. Most of the current sources for this Bruckner Ninth are known to have come from radio stations in West Berlin and Munich and although DDR had been based in Berlin prior to the war, it was moved to what would become East Berlin soon after, although they would broadcast throughout the entire country. The broadcast was given on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s birth. The booklet records a broadcast date of 25th January 1966, the 25th being the exact date in January 1886 Furtwängler was born. We do know that concerts were broadcast on multiple radio stations; the issue is whether multiple copies of broadcasts survived allied bombing – Hamburg’s archives, for example, were almost decimated. And, there is the possibility that tapes may well have ended up in private archives rather than public ones.

The booklet notes, in Japanese only, give us some idea as to the provenance of the tape, although you could run a train through the gaps in the origins behind the story of how it emerged. For some, this may be enough to condemn it. The tape itself may not be new – Hirabayashi mentions that he has previously had a reel-to-reel of this particular broadcast, although the sound was very poor. This has never prevented Furtwängler performances from being issued, however. He was pointed to the tape’s existence by Takuya Nagai (one plus factor in this story if you know the name) at La Voce Kyoto – a specialist classical Japanese website. Through a German intermediary (possibly Dr. Friedhelm Schöning) the tape was sent to Hirabayashi. Almost nothing is mentioned in depth of how it was acquired in the first place other than a copy of the tape was simply taken from the East German broadcasting station and taken to west Berlin where it has largely remained in private hands since. This is, I think, scant at best. But the Furtwängler discography is heavy with recordings that have back-stories which are difficult to substantiate, and are even controversial. Unusually, the CD also includes the closing announcement which authenticates the date of the broadcast. It’s in stereo, entirely accurate for this period, and, I think given the “background” on the tape that you can hear at the close of the Bruckner symphony and then through the announcement it is very likely genuine.

What I think matters is how this performance sounds. In a nutshell it largely sounds superb. Hirabayashi is correct in suggesting that the atmosphere of this tape is entirely different to previous ones: it is. His booklet notes on the remastering undertaken are typical of Hirabayashi’s largely non-interventionist style: removing noise “only that interfered with an appreciation, and reproduction, of the atmosphere, but remained faithful to the original tape” (my translation).

A more generalised approach that he has taken is that some noise simply cannot be removed without damaging the integrity of the performance itself – it becomes turbid or details are engulfed. Neither of these happen here. The quote from Prieberg’s book suggests that Furtwängler had considerable problems with the acoustic and size of the Beethovensaal – especially when performing some symphonies. The Bruckner Ninth has never especially been a Furtwängler recording notable for the clarity or depth of orchestral detail or colour we hear in other performances by this conductor. Presumably, the extensive rehearsal time needed by Furtwängler was engineered to at least try and capture some of this during the broadcast. And, of course, Furtwängler would have preferred live performances not any of the strictures that a radio station broadcast would have imposed on him. What is absolutely extraordinary is that in late 1944, in this particular city, under what were almost impossible working conditions, any recording could be made with almost twenty hours of time devoted to it: the scale of the performance we ended up with is all the remarkable for it, whatever its imperfections.

I mentioned during my review of Warner’s The Complete Wilhelm Furtwängler on Record that with his recordings it isn’t those which capture the best sound, but those which capture the most authentic sound that are the most revealing. The “DG” tape and the “GS” tape certainly give us two very different sounding Berlin Philharmonics. My yardstick when looking for a “Berlin” sound is to go back to the live wartime performances that we have – although these are not necessarily those that have appeared on DG. Melodiya wartime concerts, for example, have almost zero remastering so come closer to the original tapes and to Furtwängler’s Berlin sound. These, in my view, sound the least “mono” of many of the official CDs – and they also make the orchestra sound far less tubby or bloated; they basically most reflect the rawness of the performance in almost every way. There is no Melodiya Bruckner Ninth, but comparing other Melodiya discs with their DG counterparts you would get a reasonably good idea of what a Melodiya Bruckner Ninth would sound like. This wouldn’t be the case if your only barometer was, perhaps, the Société Wilhelm Furtwängler CD.

Until I heard the GS disc, I often struggled with a Furtwängler recording of the Ninth. There are more releases of the performance than the John Hunt – or the Olsen – discographies – or online Furtwängler pages dedicated to the conductor – have managed to keep up with. Many are out-of-print. Most simply reuse the DG tape, but remaster it using different technology: Music & Arts used a digital balancing technique but all it did was to muddy the instruments by adding over-heavy reverberation. Iron Needle have always struck me as pretty much a label that matches their name: hard, steely and unacceptable. Andromeda in their Bruckner edition are often rather thrilling and despite the many issues it has, I enjoy listening to it – it’s warm, atmospheric, although flatter, and it’s in stereo and appeared before either the Pristine and Praga issues. However, this goes to the other extreme and is far too bass heavy, even if it does seem to eliminate some of the more entrenched problems you hear in DG (it also suffers from a poor left-right audio picture at times). Volume levels are also extraordinarily high which can affect distortion of instruments in places; although even with these volume levels there is still a certain “fading” to the aural picture. Andromeda do not give any information as to their source but this sounds like an LP transfer in which case it is most likely the Japanese pressing – the only one I am aware of that is on CD. I prefer the French DG over the German DG and the Japanese DG mono have never really been exceptionally better than either of those; I have sometimes found it hard to distinguish the Japanese discs from each other.

What some of these labels have is very minor time changes, so there are some tempi differences; DG ended up making pitch corrections in later years to give all of their recordings exact timings. The Praga issue is quite substantial in the first movement. The one thing none of these labels have ever managed to do is alter the character of this Bruckner Ninth, to give us the perception that we are in some way listening to a slightly different version of it. The Japanese DG has a first movement of 23:43; the Praga of 23:23; the GS 23:50. DG in Europe would eventually settle on 23:40 and any label which also – Music & Arts, for example – had this timing likely used that disc directly. Even within movements there are slight differences. The GS can sometimes run some 2 seconds slower than the DG Japan, for example, but one might well expect this from a reel-to-reel tape. DG, Praga and GS have call caught up by the beginning of the coda, however.

The first thing I will mention from the outset about the GS disc is that the greater resonance, the more gripping atmosphere, and the broader acoustic – and perhaps most noticeably the deeper range of the Berlin strings – is not because of a change (or lowering) of pitch. In fact, the speeds on this disc are pretty much identical to most other releases. Another thing one notices is the considerable difference in the sound itself. On first hearing it almost sounds like stereo so atmospheric is the broadcast and wide the range of what we hear. But there are examples of Furtwängler recordings from the war years sounding just like this: the November 1942 Tristan und Isolde Prelude & Liebestod, the February 1942 Meistersinger and even the January 1945 Brahms Nr.1 (first movement only). That November Tristan is revealing for another reason: it’s one of the most accurate performances I have heard from the wartime recordings that most reflects the beauty and depth of sound that Furtwängler gets from the Berlin strings and that we know we can now reasonably apply to the Berlin Bruckner Ninth [Tristan, 7:40 – 8:42; Bruckner, Feierlich, Misterioso 3:52 – 4:50, Adagio 8:28 – 10:22].

As I have mentioned in this review, the tape has a noticeable “rumble” from the very beginning. The first time you hear this version of the Bruckner Ninth it will be a distraction. It will probably be a distraction for the second, third and maybe fourth times. But after that it becomes part of the performance, much as the endemic problems at the opening of the Cairo Tchaikovsky Sixth does. There is also the occasional bit of tape interference you do not get on the DG tapes which remain the source for most other releases. On the GS tape that can be heard in the Adagio at 16:17. These are not existential issues but they are new ones if you are only familiar with the current disc.

There will never be anything other than a less than perfect recording of this symphony by Wilhelm Furtwängler. This one has become my preferred choice, however, for several reasons. Firstly, it is the only one which gives us a sense of real open space around the orchestra; it is the first that has given the Berlin Philharmonic a bloom and sound that more closely reflects a genuine warmth in the orchestra. For the first time we can hear what the lower strings sound like and we also hear less strain in the upper strings. The brass have slightly more restraint.

Secondly, climaxes have never sounded more powerful than in this particular transfer. The coda to the first movement is overwhelming; it’s massive, propelled by quite extraordinary force that is only hinted at in previous issues. The great climax to the Adagio, in what is probably the most successful movement in sound (and generally always has been) is cataclysmic.

This has never been a Bruckner Ninth one owns for everyday listening. As with many Furtwängler performances it takes more out of the listener than it gives back. This new transfer now makes it more difficult than ever but for anyone who loves this performance this disc is an important addition to the Furtwängler Bruckner discography.

Marc Bridle



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