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VINE VOICEon January 22, 2011
Update: August 6, 2011. I originally wrote this review in pre-release based on public sources regarding the recordings, tracks and remastering information. It was released in Europe in January, and was originally due to be released Feb 15, 2011 in the US, but release here was apparently delayed until May. I jumped the gun and ordered it from France when it appeared the US release had been canceled.

This set has a lot going for it for people who do not already own these recordings. It features new 2010 remasters of the Beethoven symphonies on discs 1-5, as well as on the Brahms cycle on discs 10-12. But the remasters add little, if anything, to earlier releases. I do not have any of the Brahms releases, but I'm not hearing much of a difference on the Beethoven.

If anything, the new remasters have taken away a little bit rather than added to the quality. On the Bayreuth 9th, for example, there is not much difference at all compared to an earlier EMI release I have, but I did feel the former release had slightly better sound -- audible, for instance in the tympanies in a few places. On the other hand, the Beethoven Violin Concerto from Lucerne with Menuhin sounds better than on a previous EMI release I have.

Ultimately, I regret the decision to buy this set, because despite some misgivings I eventually ended up buying the mammoth release on Membran, Wilhelm Furtwangler: The Legacy. Having bought Membran releases in the past, I was, like many, quite skeptical about the quality I would find on their 107-CD set purporting to include at least one version of every composition Furtwangler had ever recorded.

My fears turned out to be only partially founded -- I say partially because sound quality is always going to be an issue of interest and potential concern on any Furtwangler set. While there are some recordings on this EMI collection that sound slightly better than the Membran release of the same performance, in the majority of cases I felt the edge went to Membran -- almost always because of EMI's poor mastering using overly aggressive noise control that also wipes out the high end. My review of the Membran includes a short statement or two of the sound quality on each disc.

In the end, I can warmly recommend the huge Membran set over this EMI offering. This is unfortunate as I would like to be able to expect more from EMI.

Indeed, since I already had a lot of the Beethoven on this collection, a major part of my original decision to buy this EMI set was based on my desire to finally get a copy of the classic four-disc recording of Tristan und Isolde featuring Kirstin Flagstad and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In the end, the Membran version sounds slightly better than the Tristan featured here.

At any rate, here is a breakdown of the contents:

Disc 1-5
Beethoven - Complete Symphonies
Nos. 1-7 Vienna Philharmonic
No. 8 Stockholm Philharmonic
No. 9 Bayreuth Festspiel-Orchester
- The performances appear to be identical to those found in this release.
- 2010 remasters do not add much, if anything, to quality

Disc 6
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5, Edwin Fischer soloist (from this recording)
Bartok - Violin Concerto No. 2, Yehudi Menuhin soloist (from this recording)
- 2001 remaster

Disc 7
Beethoven - Violin Concerto, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin soloist
Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto, Berlin Philharmonic, Yehudi Menuhin soloist
- 1998-1999 remasters

Disc 8-9
Beethoven - Fidelio, Vienna Philharmonic, Martha Modl in title role (from this recording)

Discs 10-12
Brahms - Four Symphonies, Hungarian Dances, Haydn Variations
Beethoven - Corolian and Leonore Overtures
- All from this set
- 2010 remasters

Disc 13
Brahms - Violin Concerto, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin soloist
Brahms - Double Concerto, Vienna Philharmonic, Willi Boskovsky and Emanuel Brabec soloists
- Both recordings found on this CD
- 2004 remaster on the Violin Concerto, 1980 (!) remaster on the double concerto

Disc 14
Mozart - Symphony No. 40, Vienna Philharmonic
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6, Berlin Philharmonic. (Appears to be from the recording by HMV, a former EMI subsidiary, featured on this disc)
- Remasters are 1998 for the Mozart and 1993 for the Tchaikovsky
- The Tchaikovsky sounds terrible -- very loud hiss

Disc 15
Richard Strauss - Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklärung - Berlin Philharmonic
Furtwängler - Symphonic Concerto: II Adagio, Berlin Philharmonic, Edwin Fischer soloist (Appears to be from the HMV recording referenced above)
- Remastering 1994 on the Strauss and 1999 on the Furtwängler

Disc 16-19
Wagner - Tristan und Isolde, Philharmona Orchestra, Kirstin Flagstad, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau et al (the legendary recording found on this and other EMI editions)
- Still the 2001 remaster

Disc 20
Haydn - Symphony No. 94 "Surprise", Vienna Philharmonic
Cherubini - Anacréon Overture, Vienna Philharmonic
Schubert - Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished", Vienna Philharmonic
Liszt - Les Preludes, Vienna Philharmonic
- All apparently from this release
- Remasters 1998

Disc 21
A new audio documentary, "Remembering Furtwängler". Quite enjoyable, although the tendency is to have a 30-second quote followed by 2 minutes of a music clip. The format will be quite familiar to anyone who heard the "Remembering Karajan" documentary EMI released on the web in conjunction with its big boxes a few years back, or the "Remembering Menuhin" documentary from that box set in 2009.
1616 comments93 of 97 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on May 22, 2011
Whenever there is a Furtwangler reissue from a major record label such as EMI or DG, there comes a chorus of critics the size of the Wiener Singverein shouting "you can do better." This raises the following questions: where can you do better, how much better can you do, and at what cost. The short answer is: on various import labels such as Audite, Naxos and Tahra, you can do marginally better, and it will cost you plenty.

The fact is, you just can't get a broader base of Furtwangler recordings, covering a variety of Classic, Romantic, and Modern orchestral works than you can here at this price, plus you get two complete operas.

While EMI's reputation for remastering is deservedly poor, the source material for this set is the best available. The majority of this set consists of studio recordings made in the early 50's. A studio recording in good 50's mono is going to sound better than a live recording from the 40's no matter how good the remastering of the 40's recording is.

There are also those who deride Furtwangler's studio recordings as not representative of his art or in some way less spontaneous and therefore inferior to his live performances. They are somewhat less spontaneous, but in exchange for that loss of some spontaneity, you get much better ensemble playing and a lack of audience hacking and orchestral gaffes - both of which can be severe in many of his live recordings. Also, these cough's, poor entrances, and questionable intonation become less endearing with each repeated listening. It is in repeated listening that the studio recordings show their worth.

In a nutshell, this is what you are getting:

Disc 1: Beethoven 1 & 3, Wiener Philharmoniker (VPO), studio, 24, 26-28.XI.1952.
Disc 2: Beethoven 2 (live, 3.X.1948, Royal Albert Hall) & 4 (studio, 1-3.XII.1952), VPO.
Disc 3: Beethoven 5 & 7, VPO, studio 28.II & 1.III.1954; 18-19.1950 respectively. The 7th has never sounded better.
Disc 4: Beethoven 6 (studio, 24-25.XI & 1.XII.1952) VPO, & 8 (live, Stockholm Philharmonic, 13.XI.1948).
Disc 5: Beethoven 9, live, Bayreuther Festspiele, 29.VII.1951.
Disc 6: Beethoven Piano Concerto #5, Edwin Fischer, studio 19-20.II.1951; Bartok Violin Concerto #2, Menuhin, studio 12-13.IX.1953.
Disc 7: Beethoven Violin Concerto, Lucerne, 28-29.VIII.1949 (as remastered by Testament); Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, studio 25-26.V.1952, Menuhin.
Discs 8 & 9 Beethoven Fidelio, studio 13-17.X.1953.
Disc 10: Brahms, Hungarian Dances 1, 3, & 10, studio 4.IV.1949, Haydn Variations, studio 30.III & 2.IV.1949, Brahms 1, live 27.I.1952 all VPO.
Disc 11: Brahms 2, live 7.V.1952 BPO (notes incorrectly say VPO), Brahms 3, live 18.XII.1949, BPO - the notes say 8.XII.1949 VPO, but that is incorrect.
Disc 12: Brahms 4, live, BPO 24.X.1948 (notes say VPO, but again it is the BPO); Beethoven Coriolan Overture, studio VPO 24.X.1948, Leonore Overture #2, studio BPO 4-5.IV.1954.
Disc 13: Brahms Violin Concerto, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, studio 28-29.VIII.1949; Brahms Double Concerto, live 27.I.1952 (Boskovsky, Brabec, VPO).
Disc 14: Mozart 40, VPO, studio 7-8.XII.1948 & 17.II.1949; Tchaikovsky 6, BPO, studio 25-27.X.1938.
Disc 15: R. Strauss, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklaerung, VPO, studio 1954, 1954, 1950 respectively; Furtwangler Symphonic Concerto (2nd mvmnt only) studio, 25.IV.1939.
Discs 16-19 Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, studio 10-22.VI.1952.
Disc 20: Haydn 94, Cherubini Anacreon Ov., Schubert 8, Liszt Les Preludes, all VPO, studio, 1950-1954.
Disc 21: Remembering Furtwangler (audio documentary).

So... if you are looking for improvements to what is offered here and money is no object, I would recommend the following:

Beethoven 3, live BPO 08.XII.1952
Beethoven 6 and 5, live BPO 23.V.1954
Brahms 3, live BPO 27.IV.1954
Brahms 4, live (same recording as here, but better remastering from a better source) 24.X.1948
all available as part of Edition Wilhelm Furtwängler - The Complete RIAS Recordings. An excellent Bruckner 8 comes with this set, and you really should hear his Bruckner. Also, the Brahms 3 from the EMI set is duped here, but in better sound.

Beethoven 9, live 22.8.1954, Philharmonia Orchestra
available here Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (8/22/1954).

Brahms 1, live, 1951, NDR Orchestra
available on Tahra but no product link (search for it).

As a supplement to the above, I recommend the following other recordings by Furtwangler:

Wagner: Die Walkure [Martha Modl, Leonie Rysanek, Margarete Klose, Ludwig Suthaus, Ferdinand Frantz, Gottlob Frick; Wilhelm Furtwangler] (1954 EMI Studio recording; Remastered on Naxos Historical)

Mozart: Symphony #40/Piano Concerto #20/Serenades #10 'Gran Partita' & #13 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - Wilhelm Furtwangler, Berlin Philharmonic - dupes Symphony 40 above, but has other items of interest.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 / Haydn: Symphony No. 88 / Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op.62 / Schumann: Symphony No. 1

This list could go on. The wartime recordings from DG are interesting, but sloppy and in poor sound. You can easily find them on Amazon if you are interested. Try and get the CD versions of the DG sets, as the MP3 versions are not gaplessly encoded.
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on March 25, 2011
I purchased this set from Amazon.UK and the remastering job is just awful. The clown who remastered (see his arrogant little presentation on YouTube [...]
these discs squashed all the dynamic range and life out of pretty-darned-good master tapes. I have LP issues of these same recordings released on EMI U.S.'s Seraphim budget label during the 1960's and 1970's and they reveal these recordings to be crisply recorded, with lots of room ambience, and excellent dynamic range, even though they're in mono. The 21 CD set (as well as the SACD's of the same material done for the Japanese market) sound just awful, like you're sitting in a telephone booth rather than a concert hall. These 2010 remasters are an insult to Furtwangler's stunning performances. Stick with the old versions from the 80's and 90's or try to find LP's from the '60's and '70's to hear the magnificance of Furtwangler's EMI era. It seems that the "remastering engineer" is more concerned with cutting off the high end with ProTools than he is in reconstructing a live performance on disc. Let him play with his toys and impress himself with his ProTools, I won't waste anymore of my time or money on EMI's crap. Glad to see that the company and their hack engineers are in financial trouble.
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on January 27, 2011
I'd pretty much give my first born for great SACD remasters of these disks which have been reissued and remastered many times, most of the time pretty much sounding like EMI, i.e. dry, brittle, horrible. Don't rush out.

I notice that a Japanese website now claims they have SACD Furtwangler, EMI. They charge a bundle for each disk. Now, I've tried in the past to contact EMI and ask if the XRCDs I have bought are indeed EMI originals and I get back nothing. I thought one was real and one was a fake. You'd think they would be interested in knowing who is ripping them off but... no response. Just another mark of a cruddy company with a load of great performances. For me Furtwangler is tops in Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Tristan and the Ring. But I have all that. And I suffer with EMI sound or buy on Tahra, Music&Arts for better sound.

EMI is a dog of a company when in comes to sound quality, truth in marketing, etc. Witness the ICON series, Oistrakh, Richter, Du Pre. EMI will often slap in old "remasters", going back years from the current best remasters for God knows what reason -short term suckering of customers burns your brand. (Please Sony, buy them out and give the recordings decent remasterings or SACD them!) Some of the EMI Oistrakh sound is just appallingly bad.

Five star performances; one star or lower for EMI sound. Go with Tahra, Orfeo, Music@Arts, even rip and run Preiser has sounded better.

Furtwangler does amazing things within the German composers. Really can't be bettered and unfortunately EMI did/has the recordings. I've been suckered in before but now I know better.
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on February 14, 2015
This is a fabulous box set. I resisted buying it for a long time, but I'm glad I finally gave in. The 2011 remasters on many of the CDs in this set (notably and most significantly, most of the Beethoven and Brahms items) are excellent and seem to be identical to the DSD masters that were used to produce the Japanese SACDs, at least from comparisons I've made with those SACDs that I own. No new remasters were made for this box set, so some of the CDs here are quite old digital masters. But these are all mono recordings, many of them 78s, so sound is not the main reason for buying this set. But to hear the greatest conductor of the 20th century in repertoire that was central to his career is a privilege. I agree with most admirers of Furtwangler that his greatest achievements were in live performances. But granting that, there is a tendency to minimize the value and importance of his studio recordings, which is too bad. Nevertheless, many of the CDs here are live performances of those works which Furtwangler never recorded in the studio for EMI/HMV. The one glaring omission in this box set is Bruckner. Furtwangler made no commercial recording of any Bruckner symphony, but several amazing live performances have survived. One of these, the Bruckner 7th from 1949, was released on Bruckner: Symphony No.7 by EMI (now Warner), but was unfortunately not included in this box set - a very sad omission. Of course, it would have been great for the box set to have included one of the Flagstad recordings of the Immolation Scene, and one can lament other omissions. But this is a great set. And the price is unbeatable for the value of what's included. Other reviewers have given low ratings to the sound on these CDs. I don't know what they expect quite frankly. These are recordings from the 1940s and 1950s (even some from the 1930s) and I believe they have never sounded better than they sound here. The detail in the orchestral sound that I hear in the Beethoven and Brahms remasters is quite phenomenal and there is far greater warmth and depth in the sound than in earlier EMI releases, including the previous incarnation of the Beethoven: The 9 Symphonies from around 2000.
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on May 27, 2015
I see most of the reviews here are concerned with sound quality, with EMI's transfers receiving strong criticism. Without totally ignoring sonic concerns, I wish to comment, in addition, on artistic matters.

This set is an extensive, but not comprehensive, survey of the conductor's repertoire. There is no Bruckner, arguably the music the conductor did best of all. Furtwaengler at his greatest equalled, and possibly surpassed, any conductor on records, but the performances here are even more variable than usual for a boxed set. The Beethoven symphonies are, on the whole, not the conductor's best recordings. The Bayreuth Ninth is inferior (as others have suggested) to the Lucerne Festival / Philharmonia Ninth in terms of playing, recording and probably conducting. Since the Philharmonia was EMI's house orchestra at the time, why didn't the label select the latter as its recording to represent Furtwaengler in the Ninth? Symphony No. 2 (also live) has virtually unlistenable sound (Pristine Classical has a transfer that must surely be better). The six symphonies recorded in the studio (with the VPO) have good early high fidelity sound, but the conductor couldn't always seem to get the most committed playing from the orchestra. The Fifth is a splendid example of the broad and magisterial approach to the work and the Eroica is similar, if not quite on the same level.

When it comes to the 'live' Brahms symphonies, this is surely the most consistently stimulating set on records (even in the face of stiff competition from Klemperer and Tocanini (both Philharmonia) and Walter). The sound is not hi-fi but just serviceable. But the studio Haydn Variations is the dullest, most lifeless run-through known to me, seemingly supporting the cliché that, post-war, the conductor was often below his best in the studio. (But the pre-war studio Tchaikovsky Pathetique is surely the all-time greatest performance of the work.)

Having few of the earlier CD issues (and even fewer LPs) I must pass on the question of the quality of transfers in this set relative to earlier LP and CD issues (apart from noting that the Beethoven Seventh in this set seems a distinct improvement on earlier EMI transfers).
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on March 6, 2012
I have been enjoying the latest sacd emi Furtwangler series.
They sound warmer and sweeter than my previous ones. Are they worth the extra bucks? Art is so subjective, you'll have to make that call, but we are talking Furtwangler here... Playing over an average $10,000 sacd (2 channel)system, (that's everything, speakers, player subwoffer and amp...). The operas also seem to bring out a more rounded presence in the vocals thats quite pleasing to my ear. Now keep in mind these are minor improvments but improvments they are! Be bold and try one, i think you'll be suprised.
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on December 27, 2012
I usually go for products that give good value for the dollar.
It(The Great EMI Recordings) was a bargain at that price
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on April 20, 2012
I recognize how wonderful these performances must have been, but many were recorded in the late 1940's the most recent the mid 1950's.
Some of them, the sound quality is TERRIBLE! It sounds like you are playing an old scratched up record on an old victrola. A good stereo only makes it sound worse.
I am sorry but DONT BUY IT because you won't enjoy listening to it.
If I had known I would not have bought it.
Magoo....
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