BRAHMS A German Requiem • Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond; Kerstin Lindberg-Torlind (sop); Bernhard Sönnerstedt (bar); Musikalista Sällskapet; Stockholm PO • MUSIC & ARTS 289, mono (79:45)
Music & Arts has an odd habit of releasing new (and usually better) transfers of performances that they have issued before, and using the same catalog number. So CD 289 is now in its third incarnation, the first dating back to 1988! The buyer therefore must be careful to get the most recent version,Read more particularly in this case, because of its clear and significant superiority to the earlier ones. (Note: M&A also released it in a two-disc set containing another Furtwängler performance of the same work—CD 1085—and this transfer is much better than that one as well).
The new transfer is by Andrew Rose, of Pristine Audio fame, and while he could not get rid of the distortion and dynamic compression inherent in the original source material, what he has done is open up the sound considerably. A direct comparison with prior issues on a variety of labels makes clear that this is a huge improvement, and any serious Furtwängler collector will want this one.
There are two other German Requiem performances led by Furtwängler that have survived, one from the Lucerne Festival in 1947 and one from Vienna in 1951. Both have better orchestral playing, better choral singing, and better solo singing. But both have virtually unlistenable sound, and both are missing chunks of the piece. So this Stockholm performance is the only complete one, and the only one that won’t make you tear your hair out in frustration. The baritone here is adequate, the soprano less so—she is unsteady and unable to create the ethereal atmosphere her music demands. The orchestra is no Vienna or Berlin, but plays with fervor and sufficient execution to convey the content of the music, and its performance and the choral forces are excellent.
But what distinguishes this is Furtwängler’s fervent, deeply felt, impassioned conducting. This is, to be sure, an old-fashioned performance—spacious, flexible, almost operatic in its drama. Although our modern performance ethos seems more aimed toward some kind of “purity” and “faithfulness to the printed notes,” we should remember that Furtwängler came out of the Brahms era (their lives actually overlapped by 11 years), and there are performances we have by musicians who performed Brahms music in his presence (Max Fiedler and Bronislaw Huberman to note just two) whose music-making is as flexible or more than Furtwängler’s.
I find this one of Furtwängler’s most successful recorded performances, and an intensely personal, persuasive, and deeply felt account of this highly personal score. I could never recommend this as anyone’s only recording of the work because of the distortion and congestion that is still present in the sound quality. But what we have on this new Music & Arts release is like having a veil lifted, it is so much superior to any previous release, and we should be very grateful that it is available to us. Strong notes by Roger Dettmer and Mark Kluge, which were a part of earlier M&A releases of this performance, make a lovely addition.
German Requiem, Op. 45by Johannes Brahms Performer:
Kerstin Lindberg-Torlind (Soprano),
Bernhard Sönnerstedt (Baritone)
Stockholm Concerts Associations Orchestra,
Period: Romantic Written: 1854-1868; Austria Date of Recording: 11/09/1948 Language: German
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68by Johannes Brahms Conductor:
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1855-1876; Austria Date of Recording: 07/13/1950