Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1 in b
George Alexander Albrecht, cond; Weimar Staatskapelle CO
ARTE NOVA 768280 (2 CDs: 83:12)
The performance of music by conductor-composers almost inevitably falls into limbo upon the composer?s death as other musicians are often unwilling to champion it. Klemperer, De Sabata, and Silvestri are three whose music has suffered in this way, but the baton has been taken up for Furtwängler?s compositions by figures such as Menuhin, Kubelík, Sawallisch, Barenboim,
Alfred Walter, and George Alexander Albrecht.
That Furtwängler saw himself as a composer who was forced by circumstances to conduct is well known, and it irked him that his compositions were often misunderstood by critics, frequently being referred to as mere ?Kapellmeistermusik,? which is to say ?worthy but dull.? My perspective is that Furtwängler the conductor, the composer, and prolific essayist are inextricably intertwined, and failure to take full account of any single strain of thought is to miss much of what made him the rounded musician he was. This is music of wonder and philosophy in sound that is borne out of respected tradition and the time of its creation. Written during the opening years of the 1940s, a period of personal insecurity, the work reflects the impact of political machinations upon Furtwängler?s sensitive being. It asks, ?What is culture in a time such as this?? and even, ?What good is culture?? Indeed, one does not write an 80-minute symphony unless one has weighty questions to ask or things to say.
As a conductor, Furtwängler held views of certainty on Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner, for example, but with regard to the performance of his own works, he was racked with self-doubt; this symphony was withdrawn after a single rehearsal in 1943. Several Furtwänglerian hallmarks are readily identifiable in the work?s structure: the powerful 32-minute opening Largo is a sprawling transition requiring masterful handling by the presiding conductor to bring it off; the second movement Scherzo continues the feeling of flowing spiritual growth; taken together, the third movement Adagio and closing Finale lead one into a morass of doubts that are expressed with urgency and not a little insistence that the time is right to voice such concerns.
The orchestration pays debts to Bruckner and Pfitzner among others, yet proclaims a discernable independent voice in its use of homophony, bitonality, and polytonality governed by the emotions being expressed. There followed a Second Symphony that shares similarity of material with the first and an incomplete Third Symphony. Both of these works have been recorded by George Alexander Albrecht and the Staatskapelle Weimar for Arte Nova.
This performance of the First Symphony possesses several required attributes: dynamic pacing, urgency, incisiveness of attack, and clarity of orchestral lines. Most orchestral departments acquit themselves well, notably brass and timpani, though more depth of tone allied to pliant phrasing in the strings would have been beneficial. George Alexander Albrecht?s view of the work is a judicious mixture of consideration and impulsiveness, although there are moments when his handling of sonorities in transition might be ever so slightly ponderous, but it is a small point. Overall, his tempos are well chosen. The recorded sound is dry and precise? perfectly acceptable.
The only rival comes from Alfred Walter and the Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic for Marco Polo. Although accommodated on one disc, as opposed to Arte Nova?s two, Marco Polo?s release is inferior in every respect: quality of orchestra, interpretation, and recorded sound. A significant missed repeat in the opening movement further strengthens the view that Arte Nova?s release is the one to have.
FANFARE: Evan Dickerson
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in B minor by Wilhelm Furtwängler
George A. Albrecht
Weimar Staatskapelle Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1938-1941; Germany
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