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Furtwangler: Symphony No 2 / Albrecht, Et Al

Release Date: 03/22/2005 
Label:  Arte Nova   Catalog #: 578340   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Conductor:  George A. Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Weimar Staatskapelle Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 22 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I am well aware of the difficulties that this big, sprawling symphony causes for many listeners. I have heard it called “second rate Bruckner,” “third rate Strauss,” and many other things. But the truth is that while there are strong influences of Bruckner, Strauss, and Wagner, the work has its own fingerprints and the shape of its thematic material cannot be said to resemble any other composer. If you like large-scaled post-Romantic symphonies, this should be right up your alley. Furtwängler’s was a first-rate musical mind, and this work, which he composed mostly during his exile in Switzerland after World War II, is a sweeping and engrossing score of great emotional impact. The turmoil of the composer’s life at that time is vividly Read more reflected throughout.

In addition to Asahina’s Japanese set, the only other modern recording is on Marco Polo, conducted by W. A. Albert—and it is truly dreadful. It plods along without urgency or direction, and makes the work seem twice as long as it is. Barenboim has thus had the field to himself. This recording from Weimar originally appeared about a year ago on the Arte Nova label, and I picked it up then and was very impressed. Re-hearing it now, and directly comparing it with Barenboim’s, I remain so. If I had to choose only one, it would be the Teldec. The piece benefits from the sheer instrumental virtuosity of the Chicago players, and from Barenboim’s remarkable combination of rhythmic incisiveness and lyrical warmth. Albrecht’s performance does not flow quite as urgently, and occasionally seems to lack spark (the very end of the first movement, for example). But BMG seems to be selling these two discs for the price of one (at least on the Web sites I checked), whereas Teldec charges the price of two full discs. While I give the edge to Barenboim, it is only an edge, not an overwhelming difference. The Weimar orchestra plays with enormous conviction and sensitivity, great tonal warmth in the slow second movement, and with energy.

The trickiest thing in conducting this piece is to join the disparate tempos convincingly, to make the many tempo adjustments smoothly, and it is in that area where Barenboim scores most convincingly. But Albrecht is not that far behind, and there is no question that this release makes a more-than-acceptable alternative to the very expensive Teldec. The recorded sound is detailed without being too close up, and it has plenty of impact. The notes are extensive, but rather generalized; they don’t tell you very much about the music. For those unwilling to invest more than thirty dollars to explore this symphony, this can be enthusiastically recommended.

Henry Fogel, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in E minor by Wilhelm Furtwängler
Conductor:  George A. Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Weimar Staatskapelle Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944-1945; Germany 

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