Wilhelm Furtwaengler: Vienna Concerts 1944-1954
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After Berlin, Vienna was the music center to which Wilhelm Furtwaengler had the closest artistic connections. Under his direction the Vienna Philharmonic made a whole series of radio recordings that have now, for the first time, been carefully edited under the auspices of the Furtwaengler specialist Gottfried Kraus and released by Orfeo on 18 CDs.
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Wilhelm Furtwängler Vienna Concerts 1944-54 18 CDs
Furtwängler - The Salzburg Festival Orchestral Concerts 8 CDs
Most of the material on these 26 CDs is already available on other labels - DG, EMI, Music & Arts, Tahra, Andante, and earlier Orfeo singles, but these two boxes are a nice (and relatively inexpensive) way to acquire them all.
Orfeo's source is the official archives of Austrian Radio (same as the other labels mentioned except Music & Arts).
The best sound you can find for these recordings.
It seems arbitrary to split the 26 CDs into boxes based on whether the concert was given in Vienna or Salzburg, so I am treating this as one large collection.
The combined contents are as follows - Salzburg concerts are marked with an Asterisk (*) :
Brandenburg Concerti 3 and 5 - 1950*
Saint Matthew Passion - 1951 Part One only / 1954 "complete"
Symphony 1 - 1952
Symphony 3 - 1944, 1950*, 1952
Symphony 7 - 1954*
Symphony 8 - 1954*
Symphony 9 - 1951 (Jan.7 and Aug.31*), 1952, 1953
Grosse Fugue - 1954*
Leonore Overture No.3 - 1944
Symphony 1 - 1952
Symphony 2 - 1945
Symphony 4 - 1950*
Violin & Cello Concerto - 1952 (Boskovsky, Brabec)
Haydn Variations - 1952
German Requiem - 1951 (Siefried, Fischer-Dieskau) incomplete
Symphony 5 - 1951*
Symphony 8 - 1944, 1954
FRANCK Symphony - 1945
FURTWANGLER Symphony 2 - 1953
GLUCK Iphiginenie in Aulis Overture - 1952
HINDEMITH Die Harmonie der Welt - 1953*
MAHLER Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen - 1951* (Fischer-Dieskau), 1952 (Poell)
MENDELSSOHN Hebrides Overture - 1951*
Symphony 40 - 1944
Two Piano Concerto K.356 - 1949 (Badura-Skoda, Bella) - WRONG PERFORMANCE **
Piano Concerto K.482 - 1949 (Badura-Skoda)
PFITZNER Symphony - 1949*
STRAVINSKY Symphony in 3 Movements - 1950*
Symphony 9 - 1953*
Rosamunde Entr'acte - 1944
[hint: for ease of navigation, read the review though to the end, then come back and click on the links.]
A lot of these recordings were included in the 107 CD Membran box at an even cheaper price: Wilhelm Furtwängler: Das Vermächtnis / The Legacy , but I can't vouch for the sound there
(and I suspect larceny).
More has been written about Wilhelm Furtwangler than any other conductor. If you have gotten this far, I assume you know what you are getting into.
Two quick generalizations:
1) Furtwangler was always better "live" than in the recording studio.
2) The Berlin Philharmonic understood him better than the Vienna Philharmonic.
The first is definitely true. The second is debatable.
Furtwangler's Vienna career ran parallel to his Berlin career.
He conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1922, the same year he was appointed Music Director in Berlin.
In 1927 he was elected Principal Conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic (Vienna was always more democratic than Berlin), a position he held until his death in 1954.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- Bach's St. Matthew Passion was performed "complete" in 1954 (Furtwangler made a lot of cuts).
In 1995, EMI issued an edited version with a total timing of 150:44, on two CDs: Bach: St Matthew Passion/Furtwangler
The total timing of the performance in this box is 160:55, spilling onto a third CD.
- Beethoven's Ninth Symphony: Four different performances are included.
After a delayed start due to de-Nazification proceedings,
Furtwangler's's post-WWII career lasted from 1947 to 1954.
During these eight years, the Beethoven Symphonies Furtwangler conducted most often were the Fifth and the Ninth.
The first post-war Ninth (1949 Vienna Philharmnonic) and two Berlin Philharmonic performances (1950 & 1951) were not recorded.
Four later Vienna Philharmonic performances were recorded.
[Correction: a fifth performance from the day before the 31 May, 1953 performance in this box has been issued by ICA Classics Beethoven: Symphony No.9
Post-war recordings also survive of the Ninth at Bayreuth (twice), once at La Scala, and once with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Lucerne Festival).
The Vienna Philharmonic is the only orchestra that could assemble a complete set of the Nine Symphonies conducted by Furtwangler.
Seems like a missed opportunity.
- Brahms' German Requiem: The first CD release of this 1951 broadcast.
The soloists are Irmgard Seefried and the 25 year-old Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, making his Vienna debut.
The orchestra is the Vienna Symphony, not the Philharmonic.
The sound is not good, and two purely choral movements (2 and 6) are missing from the recording.
There are two earlier performances with different orchestras: a poorly recorded 1947 Lucerne Festival broadcast with Schwarzkopf and Hotter, and a better sounding 1948 Stockholm broadcast with local singers Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts Brahms German Requiem (2 complete performances) ,
- Bruckner's 8th Symphony: Two different editions are involved.
In Vienna 1944 (and Berlin 1949) Furtwangler conducted Haas (with some modifications).
In Vienna 1954 he reverted to the old and discredited Schalk edition.
I've always wondered why. No mention of this is made in the booklet.
The 1944 performance is a great deal more intense, and not just because of the edition used.
Furtwangler's wartime conducting always had a manic quality.
In 1954 the conductor was ill and did not have long to live.
- These boxes are limited to broadcasts from Vienna and Salzburg.
There are also a number of recordings made by the Vienna Philharmonic on tour outside Austria.
It would have been nice if some of them had been included, especially works Furtwangler recorded nowhere else:
Beethoven Symphony 2: Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4 - or - Beethoven:Sym 2/4
Bruckner Symphony 4 and Schumann Symphony 1: Beethoven; Bruckner; Haydn; Schumann - Symphonies
** This is a nice performance, but its not conducted by Furtwangler.
Paul Badura-Skoda accidentaly provided Orfeo with the tape of different performance.
The Orfeo performance is by Badura-Skoda and Jorg Demus, conducted by Hans Swarowsky.
See the comment from Santa Fe listener posted on October 2, 2013.
The correct performance is on Music and Arts: Furtwängler Conducts Mozart, along with a detailed article about the history
of the tape.
Surprising that Orfeo didn't notice, since the M&A CD is eleven years old.
Here are the timings:
_M&A: 9:42 - 7:54 - 6:37
Orfeo: 9:48 - 8:15 - 6:56
This 18 CD (!!!) box set documents 10 years of his involvment with the Vienna Philharmic with what is, essentially, a greatest hits of 19th Century German Romantic literature (Brahms, Beethoven, Bruckner) with a few exceptions. Make no mistake that this album won't draw you in with its sound quality. Most of what you'll hear is a little fuzzy, but that's not really the point here. For those who have modern recordings of many of these pieces, this box set is a great contrast that documents a great musical mind at work. These recordings also capture a different frame of mind from conductors and musicians: precision is not the endgame, and Furtwängler takes liberties with tempos in unorthodox ways.
This set contains Furtwängler's famous recordings of the Bach St. Matthew Passion and Beethoven Symphony No. 3, as well as wonderful live recordings of Brahms Symphony No. 2, among others.
For those searching for first recordings of these pieces, I would have to advise you to stay away from this set, but those looking for contrast or are big Furtwängler fans, look no further! Regardless of recording quality, these performances are magnificent and a great addition to anyone's library.