This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Relegated to the sidelines in the first couple of years after the second world war as a de-Nazification tribunal investigated his activities, Wilhelm Furtwängler’s return to the VPO in November 1947—recording for the first time under the aegis of EMI and Walter Legge—allowed the conductor a venting of emotion—and angst—that must have been a long time coming. Chosen for the grand reentry: recordings of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, Brahms’s early symphonies, and Mozart’s Serenade No. 10, a somewhat surprising choice in turn sparking a particularly robust performance.
First, to leaven some controversy for the purists: while Furtwängler eschews some of the repeats in this particular rendering of the “Gran Partita,”
the current release at least spares us the studio trickery of earlier editions, in which repeats from other recordings were dropped into the master. The set’s first disc is highlighted by Furtwängler’s esteemed reading of Symphony No. 40, recorded principally in December 1948, and a few choice passages from Die Zauberflöte from early 1950, which went unreleased for 30 years—a session seemingly booked for no other reason than Legge’s desire to try out Wilma Lipp as the Queen of Night (an audition which, judging from what’s here, left little doubt as to Lipp’s eminent qualifications). Legge, of course, then turned around and commissioned the recording of the work, in its entirety, to Karajan, fanning a less than genial rivalry, and earning himself Furtwängler’s considerable ire for the rest of the conductor’s life.
On the second disc, we jump back to November 1947 with the aforementioned Serenade No. 10, which, for some reason, follows Serenade No. 13—now universally hailed by soccer moms, middle school teachers, and people who believe that, yes, indeed, Mozart is for lovers, as “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”—taped in April 1949. Everyone has a handful of favored performances of this tireless piece, but personally, I think I’d opt for this Furtwängler recording, as its very groove, it’s riff, if you will, cuts deeper, its lines being sharper, than in any other rendering I know—even Böhm’s formidable VPO treatment on Deutsche Gramophone. EMI frequently got top sound off their mid-century recordings—at least, compared to so many other labels during the period—and even in traveling to Austria to record Furtwängler, the sound remains dramatic, if a little pinched. But I think that serves Furtwängler well, in limiting the sonic-play of some of his occasional histrionics, however illuminating those histrionics could prove—and in serving to add another jolt to the music, a feeling of heavier volume, a volume that heaves into you.
Piano Concerto No. 20, recorded live in Lugano in May 1954 with the Berlin Philharmonic, is particularly charged, as Yvonne Lefèbure lights up the piece with mini-explosions of note clusters and sweeping runs. Still, the most impressive offering here is undoubtedly the recording of Symphony No. 40, which could well be the high point of Furtwängler’s Mozart discography, small though it is. There is a real twining going on here: Mozart’s most psychologically intense symphony—one whose rejoining, almost retaliatory passages, bore into the soul—stoked by a man just back on the scene, determined not to let political machinations diminish his impact. As though they could, and as though this were not music recalling past glories while portending a future of similarly imposing accomplishments.
FANFARE: Colin Fleming
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 40 in G minor, K 550 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1788; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Piano no 20 in D minor, K 466 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Yvonne Lefébure (Piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1785; Vienna, Austria
Die Zauberflöte, K 620: Der Hölle Rache by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wilma Lipp (Soprano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria
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