BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwängler – Tahra

by | Jul 10, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/  Wilhelm Furtwängler – Tahra mono SACD FURT 2008 [www.tahra.com] 53:07 *****:

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted four performances in Vienna of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 during December 1944.  Those of the 16th, 17th and 18th were given in public and those of the 19th and 20th were radio broadcasts (Magnetofonkonzert), this release being one of the latter, without audience.  On each occasion, the other work played was the First Symphony, and a recording of one of those performances has, to my knowledge, not yet surfaced.

Currently there are nine live performances of this work available, several with each of the Berlin and  Vienna Philharmonics, and one each with the Rome SO of RAI and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, plus two studio recordings from 1947 and 1952 made by EMI in Vienna.  The otherwise excellent booklet notes have not been updated to include the 1953 Berlin performance in the EMI Great Conductors series or the 1950 Salzburg performance on EMI or Orfeo.

Of all these I think it is this one in which Furtwängler and his orchestra dig deepest, and produce a performance of gripping intensity.  Furtwängler’s adjustments of tempo are mirrored by the orchestra’s tight ensemble, the playing of the highest order.  Harry Halbreich contributes a detailed analysis in the booklet, notes which go some way to explain the genius of a Furtwängler reading, commenting on his command of dynamics, phrasing and articulation which heighten the drama and clarify the architecture.  This is indeed a stunning performance.

The concert was recorded by Furtwängler’s old friend, Friedrich Schnapp (1900-1983) using tape and few microphones, and, with this early tape technology, produced results better than most if not all of his contemporaries.  For this release, a copy of the master tape held in the Deutsche Rundfunk Archiv was used, pitch-corrected and remastered at 24 bit 192 kHz for SACD release, and a comparison with earlier releases shows a distinct improvement in the sonics, in the depth of the sound stage and in its overall clarity.  

More good news is that this release is just the first in a series on mono SACD, all newly remastered, and will be followed by the release of the 1944 recording of Bruckner’s 8th and 1951 Brahms Symphony No. 1 with the NDR Hamburg orchestra.  What with EMI Japan and DGG Japan’s local releases on SACD of many of  Furtwängler’s recordings as well, though at very high if not prohibitive prices compared with what is full price in the US and Europe, the total number of Furtwängler SACDs is approaching forty in number.  Would that EMI and DGG release these SACDs world-wide!  [Most unlikely…Ed.]

It is only fitting that music-making of this extraordinary quality should be available in the highest quality sound.

[We recently reviewed a 1940 recording of the Beethoven Third reissued by Pristine Audio and available as a 24-bit FLAC, which might make an interesting comparison…Ed.]

— Peter Joelson

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