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Beethoven, Pfitzner, Brahms / Furtwängler, Vienna Po

Release Date: 11/15/1999 
Label:  Orfeo D'or Catalog #: 525991   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenHans PfitznerJohannes Brahms
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is an important Furtwängler release. The Beethoven is a first-ever issue, and the Pfitzner and Brahms appear here in significantly superior sound quality than any prior release. All of these performances derive from the archives of the Salzburg Festival, and are thus either original masters or closer to those sources than the off-the-air recordings that have circulated until now.

The first opera that Furtwängler led in Salzburg after the war was Fidelio in 1948, opening on July 31. The second performance, August 3, was recorded (though some music is missing, including a chunk of Leonore No. 3), and is available on Melodram and Myto (the cast includes Schlüter, Patzak, Edelmann, Frantz, and della Casa).
Read more This performance of the Leonore Overture No. 3, however, was recorded on the opening night as part of an engineer's trial recording for the August 3 performance. Apparently no other extended excerpts from opening night survive, but we are fortunate that this overture is intact: The drama and wildly committed intensity of this reading shouldn't be missed. There are one or two moments where ensemble is less than perfect (the transition from the introduction to the main section being one), but this is a performance that takes the kinds of risks that we would kill to witness in today's concert life, and most of them pay off. The existence of this recording has not been known—neither Hunt's nor Tremine 's discography lists it—and it is an important find. There are other Furtwängler readings of Leonore No. 3, some better recorded and some better played; but I'm not sure that any of them match the passion of this one. Perhaps it stems from the conductor's feelings of being back at Salzburg, conducting an opera there for the first time in 10 years.

Others have recorded Hans Pfitzner's concisely constructed Symphony in C, including the composer himself. Furtwängler's performance eclipses them all, relating the various segments to the whole in a brilliantly structured and incisive reading. Prior releases of this performance (AS Disc, Dante/Lys, Fonit Cetra) have all been excessively pinched and harsh. Although this new release is no model for good, mono-broadcast sound from 1949 (clearly there are major problems with the original source), it is a vast improvement over its predecessors. One can hear the bass line now, and the timpani is no longer the equivalent of two loaves of white bread being slapped together. It is still somewhat bright and hard, and Orfeo admits the problem in its notes, but the glories of the performance are revealed as never before.

Then there is the Brahms. Most Furtwänglerians prefer the wildly intense and decently recorded (for its time) wartime (Berlin 1943) performance (best heard in Music & Arts's Brahms set CD4941, or on Tahra FURT 1034/39). The other wonderful Furtwängler performance of Brahms's last symphony is this 1950 Salzburg Festival reading, until now compromised by crimped sound (the best prior issue was Music & Arts CD-258). With access to official source material, Orfeo comes up with a significantly improved recording, one that all who love this conductor will want to hear. Mind you, the recorded sound is far from perfect, not at all up to good 1950 broadcast standards. There is tolerable, but annoying, distortion throughout, and there is also tape flutter that is most damaging on sustained woodwind notes. On the other hand, the recording reveals a warmth of string sound, and a variety of string color, essential to understanding Furtwängler's art, and not audible on previous releases of this performance, nor are these qualities very apparent on the wartime recording. Furtwängler paid great attention to details of string color and balance, and to the relationships between the string sections in matters of phrasing and nuance. All of this was central to his views of music-making. That is why any recording that clarifies these textures is important, and that is why this one is satisfying on an important level despite the tape flutter. The performance is freer, less driven, far more cantible than the wartime reading—almost lushly Romantic, without ever losing sight of the overall shape of the score. The tasteful use of portamenos in the strings is a lovely effect.

Orfeo supplies informative, stimulating notes, well translated into English, that give both historical perspective and musical thoughts about these performances.

-- Henry Fogel, Fanfare
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Works on This Recording

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: 07/31/1948 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 
Symphony in C major, Op. 46 by Hans Pfitzner
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/07/1949 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 
Length: 15 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/15/1950 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 
Length: 40 Minutes 53 Secs. 

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