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Furtwangler Conducts Beethoven - The Complete Symphonies & Selected Overtures


Release Date: 08/18/2009 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 942   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Irmgard SeefriedRosette AndayAnton DermotaPaul Schöffler
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraBerlin Philharmonic OrchestraVienna Singakademie
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 6 Hours 22 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Music & Arts's simultaneous release of a Furtwängler Brahms set was so impressive that I had high hopes for this box. The Brahms set (CD-941, four discs sold for the price of three) contains what are among the finest of Furtwängler's Brahms performances in sound quality that is equal or superior to all prior releases. Therefore, that set can be recommended as the best way to collect this conductor's Brahms.

Apparently a repeat of that success was too much to hope for. While this Beethoven set is certainly attractive and can be recommended as a convenient way to assemble important performances of this music by this conductor, it cannot be said that this is the best way to collect Furtwängler's Beethoven
Read more symphonies. For one thing, not all of the performances are the best, or even among the best, that this conductor left for posterity. Secondly, unlike the Brahms box, Music & Arts has not always reproduced these performances in the best sonic quality.

To begin with, there are some inexcusable sloppinesses of production. The box and booklet mislabel the performance of the Seventh Symphony, identifying it as April 14, 1953, when it is in fact a Berlin wartime reading from a decade earlier. (Music & Arts corrected that error in a mailing to reviewers after it was pointed out to them, and is preparing an insert for the box.) The booklet and box correctly note that the Coriolan Overture is on the same disc as the Symphonies Nos. 2 and 7, but the discs incorrectly indicate that it is filler for the Ninth Symphony. The booklet tells us that the first two discs are 78:21 and 78:45; the box claims they are 73:21 and 73:45 (the longer times are correct in both cases). The Coriolan Overture is wrongly identified as opus 6 instead of 62, and the booklet claims it is 28:57 (even at his slowest Furtwängler couldn't do that!); the Leonore is identified as Opus 721 and claims to be only 4:04! While it can be said that these timing and identification errors are trivial and inconsequential, I would argue that they are indicative of an internal sloppiness and astonishing inattention to detail that too often mar the products of Music & Arts in more significant ways, this set included.

The most logical approach to this set is to discuss the symphonies in order. The performance of the First chosen for this set is not representative of the conductor at his best. The HMV studio recording and the 1954 Berlin performance issued separately by Music & Arts (CD-792) are both more tautly shaped and executed with more precision. Music & Arts's sound here is superb, and this performance is enjoyable, but ragged ensemble and rough string playing frequently detract. The 1948 Second is the only recorded Furtwängler performance of that work, and it has been issued by EMI in various forms. Here, Music & Arts has actually managed better sound than EMI; all incarnations have distant, congested, muddy sound, but there is a bit more focus here than I've found on previous versions. This is a muscular, robust reading that is worth knowing, but the sonic defects do present a hurdle.

The famed wartime “Eroica“ is one of the conductor's most riveting readings. The two best transfers I know of this performance are issued by Bayer DaCapo (BR 200 002CD) and Preiser (90251). The latter is slightly richer and easier to find. This M&A transfer is muddy and lacking in impact when compared with both of those; too much echo or reverberation has been added, and perhaps the equalization peaks the middle frequencies a bit too much. This is an on-the-edge reading, with slashing attacks, ferocious rhythmic intensity, and a crushing weight in the funeral march—not perhaps as logically shaped as some of the conductor's later “Eroica“s but a gripping experience. The 1953 Fourth Symphony with the VPO on tour in Munich is wonderful, a warm, genial reading that never turns flaccid in its geniality. The reproduction here is as good as any release I know of.

The Fifth Symphony derives from the famous postwar performance representing Furtwängler's first time on the podium in Berlin in two years; the conductor had to wait for the Allies to de-Nazify him before giving this, the first of four concerts featuring Beethoven's “Pastorale“ Symphony, Egmont Overture, and Fifth Symphony. DG has the rights to the recording made of the third concert in the series (May 27, 1947), a less frenzied and better executed Beethoven Fifth, but they have not had it in print for many years. This May 25 reading is a bit out of control, though still fascinating to hear. On Music & Arts CD-789, however, you can get this same Fifth along with the Sixth from the same conceit, a disc worth having because of the unique circumstances surrounding that concert. For a collection of Beethoven symphonies I would have chosen a less eccentric performance, and one with better sound (perhaps the May 1954 reading that Tahra has reproduced so well). Finally, there is a slightly excessive echo surrounding this transfer of the Fifth.

The wartime Sixth is a somewhat eccentric reading, but not so much so as to be avoided. Its contrasts of dynamics and tempos are strong, the storm is a particularly violent one, and its gentle moments sing beautifully. Some prefer the slightly more structured studio “Pastorale,“ but this 1944 performance is my own favorite. This transfer is okay, but once again it is not on the level of the best available, which is in Tahra's set FURT 1004-1007. The wartime Seventh is a ferociously energetic, impassioned reading that is a curious choice for this collection. The 1953 reading that DG has issued (now out of print) represents a better balance between moment-to-moment intensity and architectural structure, and, of course, is in far better sound. But if one does want this 1943 version, Music & Arts has not managed a good transfer. Both the Japanese EMI (CE28-5750) and an earlier DG now out of print (427 775-2) have a measure of clarity and focus lacking on this muddy edition. There is an exaggerated shift in color between the third and fourth movements here. The Eighth heard here is certainly Furtwängler's most successful performance of that work, and the transfer here is excellent. The Overtures are decently transferred as well.

That leaves the Ninth, and this is one of the real puzzles of this set. I know of no Furtwängler expert or scholar who considers this to be one of this conductor's most successful renditions of this work. There are nine published Furtwängler performances of the Ninth, and almost everyone who knows all of them seems to agree that there are three that stand above the rest: Berlin 1942, Bayreuth 1951, and Lucerne 1954. All three are available in any number of good transfers (including some by Music & Arts). If this is meant to be a definitive collection of Furtwängler Beethoven performances, why not include one of those three? The Vienna 1953 version makes an unsatisfying alternative. The first movement lacks the tension and strong shaping of the other versions, and the Scherzo doesn't gain momentum as it goes. The slow movement is lovely, but lacking the ultimate rapt intensity found in the stronger versions. The Finale begins strongly, but loses concentration at key points; it doesn't compare in vitality, in an ongoing control of tension and release, to any of the three noted above. This transfer is cleaner and fuller in color than any alternative edition of this performance with which I am familiar (Seven Seas, Virtuoso, Hunt, Rodolphe, and DG).

So there you have it—a mixed bag. Because each disc is generously filled, and because M&A is selling it at a discount, this set may be worth acquiring if you have an interest in Furtwängler's Beethoven and if you are not already a collector of this conductor's work. It is a convenient and reasonably priced way of assembling Furtwängler's Beethoven. There are no bad performances in the set, and no transfers that can be called disastrous. But for the serious Furtwängler collector, or even for someone who wishes to begin to become that, this set is problematic. Too many of the performances are bettered musically or sonically elsewhere, so that the best way to collect Furtwängler's Beethoven remains to choose individual releases, not one boxed set. It is for that reason that I tried to give recommended preferences where applicable for each symphony.

-- Henry Fogel, FANFARE [3/1997] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/30/1952 
2.
Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1803; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/1944 
3.
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 10/03/1948 
Venue:  London 
4.
Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1940s 
Notes: The packaging incorrectly identifies the recording date for this selection as 04/14/1953. 
5.
Coriolan Overture in C minor, Op. 62 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/1943 
6.
Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 09/04/1953 
Venue:  Munich 
7.
Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/14/1953 
8.
Leonore Overture no 3 in C major, Op. 72a by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1805-1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/02/1944 
9.
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807 
Date of Recording: 05/25/1947 
10.
Symphony no 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1808 
Date of Recording: 03/1944 
11.
Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Irmgard Seefried (Soprano), Rosette Anday (Alto), Anton Dermota (Tenor),
Paul Schöffler (Bass)
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vienna Singakademie
Period: Classical 
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/31/1953 
Language: German 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: I. Adagio molto - Allegro con brio
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: II. Andante cantabile con moto
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: III. Menuetto - Allegro molto e vivace
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21: IV. Adagio - Allegro molto
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": I. Allegro con brio
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica": IV. Finale: Allegro molto
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: I. Adagio molto - Allegro molto
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: II. Larghetto
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: III. Scherzo
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36: IV. Allegro molto
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: I. Poco sostenuto - Vivace
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: III. Presto, assai meno presto
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92: IV. Allegro con brio
Overture to Collin's Coriolan, Op. 62, "Coriolan Overture"

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