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Brahms Par Furtwängler - Symphony No 1, Haydn Variations / Berlin Po

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Tahra   Catalog #: 2005   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Symphony No. 1. 1 Variations on a Theme by Haydn 2 Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond; Berlin PO TAHRA 2005, mono (monaural 70: 18) Live: Berlin 11/10/1952; 1 Paris 5/4/1954 2

These performances have circulated in many previous incarnations. Tahra itself has issued the Haydn Read more Variations (1023/4), and this performance of the Symphony was issued a number of times in Japan and the U.S. by DG (477 006; 453 604; 415 662). If you have either of those incarnations, there is no reason to obtain Tahra’s new remastering. There is little difference between this and Tahra’s prior version of the Variations . There is a more noticeable difference between DG’s version of the Symphony and this one. DG’s is brighter sounding, and to my ears a bit more natural. This seems to me to have some added “atmosphere” or “echo”—not a lot, but it does sound just a bit more artificial, and a bit more congested and muddy. Tahra’s transfer is also just a bit lower in pitch (about 55 seconds slower overall), but we have no way of knowing which is correct, and the difference is negligible.

If you don’t have this material, this is certainly worth investigating, but it is not the best Furtwängler performance of either work—although it is closer to that in the Symphony than the Variations . The latter was recorded during a performance on tour in Paris at a time when Furtwängler’s health was already beginning to slip, and the energy level and concentration occasionally lapse. The First Symphony here is given a remarkably powerful, cohesive reading that will allow any listener to discern why this was one of the great conductors of the 20th century. The combination of spontaneity, forward motion, sense of structure, and playing of intense commitment is irresistible.

However, if you can find Tahra 1001, it is that coupling of these two works you want. There, Furtwängler conducts the North German Radio Orchestra of Hamburg in towering performances of both works. Those performances are regarded by Furtwängler collectors as among his finest recorded work, and the sound quality is superb as well. Another fine alternative is Music & Arts 4941, excellent transfers of the Hamburg performances, along with the other Brahms symphonies in superb Furtwängler readings, as well as the Second Piano Concerto with Edwin Fischer and another performance from 1943 of the Haydn Variations . That set represents the best way of getting to know Furtwängler’s remarkable way with Brahms.

If you cannot find any of those, this new Tahra release is highly recommended. Aside from the differences between the Tahra and DG transfers, the sound is quite good 1950s monaural quality.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1876; Austria 
Variations in B flat major on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56a "St. Anthony" by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873; Austria 

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