BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 – Hilde Güden, sop./ Rosette Anday, mezzo-soprano/ Julius Patzak, tenor/ Alfred Poell, bass/ Vienna Philharmonic and Singakademie/ Wilhelm Furtwängler – Tahra

by | Feb 13, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in d, Op. 125 – Hilde Güden, soprano/ Rosette Anday, mezzo-soprano/ Julius Patzak, tenor/ Alfred Poell, bass/ Vienna Philharmonic and Singakademie/ Wilhelm Furtwängler – Tahra monophonic SACD Furt 2012, 75:41 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:

The cramped, distorted, and out of balance sound on this SACD remastered monophonic recording really has little to recommend it except to historically minded listeners or devoted Furtwängler fans. The latter will love it, as it is probably the best sounding of any issue of this particular concert, this one broadcast from the Musikverein on February 2, 1952, and one of four famously conceived performances of this work by the conductor. The others are the 1942 Berlin recording, a 1951 Bayreuth rendition, and the famous 1954 Lucerne reading, for my money still the definitive Furtwängler Ninth, and easily—easily—the best sounding of them all. These three have been previously released in a box set by Tahra in 2006, FURT 1101-1104 (deleted for some reason). This was originally released in 1995 and won a Gramophone award.

As a performance it is probably the most wayward and self-indulgent of the four; indeed in some spots I cannot detect any musical rationale for some of Furtwängler’s decisions other than he just felt like doing it that way. It is also quite slow and measured for the first three movements before all hell breaks out in the last movement. Here we are treated to a masterly interpretative voice that has the full measure of the piece, everything up-tempo and perfectly judged, except for perhaps the last bars where the famous “Furtwängler rush” has the orchestra scrambling to keep up to the last bars. But it is exciting, the soloist work exceptional, and the chorus, though very distorted in places, fully acclimated to the event of the moment.

If you are really interested in Furtwängler’s take on this symphony you do yourself no service by listening to this one only—the Lucerne version has to be heard, recorded only three months before his death, and is to my mind the final word on his explorations of this seminal piece. But this one has an important place in the canon as a record of his progression through this piece, as well as his various orchestras as well. For that reason it can be cautiously recommended. By the way, the SACD sound brings a lot to the forefront, but whether that is all good I am not as yet sure.  (I don’t know if this one is included, but a couple of the Furtwangler Ninths are available on 48K/24-bit remasterings, with more of the original faults skillfully repaired, from Pristine Audio…Ed.)

—Steven Ritter

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