LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica” – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Wilhelm Furtwängler – Tahra mono SACD FURT 2011, 53:35 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ***:
Most performances by Wilhelm Furtwängler recorded by European radio stations generally have two things in common: an extraordinary performance and highly variable sound quality. This particular Eroica is a case in point.
This is an extraordinary Vienna Philharmonic performance from November 30, 1952, but not Furtwängler’s most extraordinary recorded performance which is the 1944 Vienna Philharmonic Magnetofonkonzert (taped on metal tape for later radio broadcast) and available on Tahra SACD FURT 2008.
Furtwängler’s Beethoven interpretations met with critical derision in the U.S. in the early 1950s (when Toscanini was king), but later generations have admired and understood what he had achieved. This Eroica is dramatic and at times hair-raising. The overall arc of each movement, as well as the whole symphony, is achieved with perfect cohesion. Tempos are both fast and slow, depending on where Furtwängler was in the score, achieving the effect advocated by Richard Wagner. If you want a top-drawer performance, this is one to consider.
The Tahra label has been instrumental in making available to music lovers many of these old Furtwängler tapes. These are not the studio recordings which were mostly done for EMI and DG (who also have availed themselves of a few Furtwängler radio tapes from time to time). These Tahra releases are mostly performances in front of live audiences. Tahra chose this particular recording, since it provided the best sound obtainable of all the Furtwängler Eroicas, which total ten.
This recording is technically a reissue. I was able to do a spot comparison with a previous CD release on Virtuoso 2697182. The standard CD layer of the Tahra hybrid SACD sounded close to the Virtuoso release, but marginally more open in the treble end. However, there is a caveat. The Tahra SACD layer sounded terrible, with an extended, pinched treble that was unlistenable. The violins squealed beyond recognition.
On the other hand, the regular CD layer on the Tahra hybrid issue was perfectly satisfactory and fine mono sound from 1952, as captured by the Austrian radio engineers. What happened to the SACD layer?
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