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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9,
Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (sop); Elsa Cavelti (alt); Ernst Haefliger (ten); Otto Edelmann (bbar); Lucerne Festival Ch; Philharmonia O
MUSIC & ARTS CD-790, mono (75:15) Live: Lucerne 8/22/1954
Music & Arts does so much wonderful work that one forgives them their idiosyncrasies. This is the
time that they have released this performance with the same
catalog number, CD-790, except that the middle issue in 1996 didn’t include the hyphen between “CD” and “790!” Why they won’t give different issues (and different transfers) a different number, I certainly will never know. However, one must admit that each transfer seems an improvement on the earlier one.
Actually, Music & Arts first issued this on a relatively muddy LP; then in 1993 they issued the first CD-790 transfer, which was a notable improvement over the LP. Then in 1996, a second transfer, that one by Lowell Cross, added a bit more clarity and bite to the sound (the 1993 transfer was unidentified). Now we have Aaron Snyder’s 2007 transfer, and I think I like it the best of all. It is brighter than the others, and is also transferred just a tad sharper, which may add to that brightness. And there are moments when the upper strings sound a bit glassy. But overall, the sound is that of a good, solid 1950s monaural recording, and it gives us some of the best sound we’ll ever hear from a Furtwängler performance of this work. The performance comes through with a sure impact, and I found myself not thinking about the quality of the transfer after the first few minutes. That is the sign of good transfer engineering.
This is the conductor’s final performance of the Ninth, given just three months before his death. It is a work he never recorded in the studio (he refused many suggestions to do so without leaving us a clear understanding of why). This is less frantic, less driven, than the earlier ones (surely the most frenetic is the famed wartime version), and one is tempted to see this as a performance by a man who knew he was nearing the end. Furtwängler had been ill, and I don’t believe it is too melodramatic to feel that he knew he would never conduct the Ninth again. The Adagio is so deeply felt and expressive as to leave you breathless, and the grandeur of the finale is remarkable.
Over the years this has gradually become my favorite of the Furtwängler performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—though the 1951 Bayreuth reading has much to recommend it too. But the inner strength and power of this reading stays long in the memory. The soloists are pretty terrific too. This is a truly extraordinary document, and I recommend it with complete enthusiasm.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Soprano),
Elsa Cavelti (Mezzo Soprano),
Ernst Haefliger (Tenor),
Otto Edelmann (Bass)
Lucerne Festival Chorus
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 08/22/1954
Venue: Live Lucerne, Switzerland
Length: 75 Minutes 20 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Interesting August 22, 2014
By John D. (Amherst, MA) See All My Reviews
"I bought this because it is reputed to be the best of the Furtwangler recordings of the 9th. I am not enough of an aficionado of the Beethoven symphonies to appreciate Furtwangler's interpretation as much as many do. Still, I value it as a supplement to a recording with more modern acoustics and will listen to it often."