Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9,
Entr’acte No. 3
Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond; Berlin PO;
TAHRA FURT 2006, mono (CD: 58: 20) Live: Berlin 12/6–8/1942;
This wartime performance of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony has circulated before, but is currently difficult to obtain. On arkivmusic.com I found it only in a four-disc DG set of wartime performances by the conductor. It has been available before on DG, Music & Arts, and Japanese EMI. Tahra’s new reprocessing is the best yet, although the earlier versions were quite decent, and I’m not certain that the difference is great enough to merit replacement if you already own one of the earlier versions. The sound here is somewhat cleaner, more natural, less edgy and gritty. For a wartime broadcast recording it is, in fact, quite superb, and serious collectors of this conductor may well wish to purchase this one in order to have it at its best. For those who do not know this reading, let us just say that it is not for the faint of heart.
The performance is so dramatic as to be almost shocking. Although Furtwängler’s way with this Symphony has always been big-boned, this version, as with many of his performances from the 1940s, is edgy, even ferocious. His 1951 studio recording for DG is generally recognized as one of his finest recordings, and even those critical of the conductor’s approach tend to admire that example. It is filled with subtle tempo adjustments and frequent dynamic gradations, but always with the architecture of the score in mind. It is probably the safest recommendation for most music lovers who want to become familiar with Furtwängler’s way with this piece (DG 447 439). This 1942 performance is altogether something else (note: I have given the December 6–8, 1942 dates above, but there is also the possibility that the performance dates from June 1942; Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic played it in both periods, and we aren’t sure which was recorded). The tempo adjustments are more extreme, sometimes more sudden; the dynamic shadings are wider, and the climaxes are stronger, more emphatic. While this would not be my only choice for a recording of this Symphony, neither would I be without it. It is seat-of-the-pants music-making, with every musician digging in and playing as if his life depended on it, and it will grab you by the throat and not let go. John Ardoin, in his excellent
The Furtwängler Record
, uses the adjective “explosive” to describe this performance, and it is apt.
Entr’acte is somewhat warmer and more lyrical, because that is the nature of the music. But it, too, has a crispness and energy about it, and it, too, is beautifully transferred.
The notes are not about the music, but rather the provenance of the tapes from which the recordings derive, and they are somewhat clumsily translated into English from the original French.
This is unique music-making, searing in its intensity, and it is brought to life in superb transfers. Few listeners will come away neutral about this rendition of Schubert’s “Great” C-Major Symphony. Some will hate it; others will not want to live without it. As you can probably guess, I fall into the latter category, but with full empathy for those who fall into the former.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Rosamunde, Interlude No. 3 in B-Flat Major
Symphony No. 8 (9), The Great, D 944: I. Andante - Allegro ma non troppo
Symphony No. 8 (9), The Great, D 944: II. Andante con moto
Symphony No. 8 (9), The Great, D 944: III. Scherzo (Allegro vivace) - Trio
Symphony No. 8 (9), The Great, D 944: IV. Allegro vivace
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