Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 8,
Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond; Berlin PO
MUSIC & ARTS 1218, mono (79:24) Live: Berlin 2/10/1952
Perhaps the best thing about this disc is that it puts Furtwängler performances of Schubert’s two great symphonies on one disc for the first time. The “Unfinished” is a live performance from
February 10, 1952, and the Ninth is the famous studio recording from December 1951. Both have been issued multiple times by Deutsche Grammophon, and in fact both are still available currently on their DG releases.
Given that, the key question is whether Lani Spahr’s transfer for Music & Arts is superior to the DG versions, and after fairly thorough A-B comparisons I would say the answer is no. The “Unfinished” seems quite similar to the version I have on Japanese DG POCG-3790 (it is also available more conveniently on DG 423 572, coupled with a wonderful Brahms Third). As for the Ninth, one of Furtwängler’s most famous recordings and one of his most successful studio recordings, I found the version on DG Originals 447 439 (coupled with a delightful Haydn 88th) to sound a bit richer and more natural. The differences are not significant, but spread over the length of the symphony, I must say I did find listening to the DG version somewhat more satisfying.
These are, in other words, good transfers of material that was always among the best sounding of Furtwängler’s output, but if you already own the performances there is no reason to replace them with this disc. If you do not, and if the combination of these two works appeals to you, this can be recommended, although if you are willing to invest in the two DG discs noted above, that might be even better.
For those who are not familiar with these performances, they make a very good introduction to one of the great conductors of the 20th century. The “Unfinished” is an inward-looking performance that stresses the music’s lyricism and meditative qualities more than its drama. Tempo changes are subtle, phrasing is flexible, dynamics and tempos are influenced strongly by harmonic motion, and the music seems to exist in a single line from beginning to end.
The Ninth is a more dramatic, even willful, reading—but never excessively so. This is a recording that even Furtwängler critics have praised, and it stands as one of the great examples of his art. The symphony’s link to the dramatic tradition of Beethoven is made clear in a big-boned urgent performance that never flags in its intensity.
Music & Arts includes excerpts from John Ardoin’s superb book,
The Furtwängler Record
, which make for enlightening reading.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
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