BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; Grosse Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133 – Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Pristine Audio PASC 370 63:09 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Anyone who recalls that DGG issued a six-LP set in 1964 “Furtwaengler in Memoriam” has doubtless awaited – and for the best of reasons – the reissue of this remarkable live performance (18 May 1953) of the Beethoven Violin Concerto from the Titania-Palast, Berlin with the distinguished violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhahn (1915-2002). The DGG set itself meant to memorialize the tenth anniversary of the conductor’s death; yet despite the resurgence of other items in the set, like the Schumann Fourth and Schubert Ninth, the Beethoven Violin Concerto remained fallow, ceding its place in the Furtwaengler legacy to the more famous inscriptions with Yehudi Menuhin and the one with Erich Roehn from wartime tapes made just prior to the destruction of the Philharmonie by Allied bombs.
I had written both to Mark Obert-Thorn and to Myriam Scherchen (of Tahra) about this monumental performance and its possible restoration to the active archives of recorded sound. Mark Obert-Thorn now grants a long-cherished wish, maintaining the slightly bright pitch of the original DGG LPs. The scope of the reading belongs totally to Furtwaengler, whose Dionysiac orchestral tuttis crescendo more like mountain ranges than commentaries on the progress of the violin solo. Schneiderhahn could equal both the intensity and sweetness of his contemporary fiddlers Menuhin and Francescatti, and his intonation often proved more dependable. The G Major Larghetto enjoys a loving, molded application from Schneiderhahn, the rising scale a verbatim phrase from the opening movement, with equally transparent response from the BPO strings and horns. With the segue to the energized Rondo – Allegro, Furtwaengler applies the touch of humor and the sense of the colossal to the panorama, the BPO oboe and bassoon quite present. The dance assumes an epic character, more akin to the athletics of the Seventh Symphony than to any expression of a Classical sensibility. Schneiderhahn’s final cadenza contains references to the Fifth Symphony, if any hint of a “fateful” encounter were necessary. Yet, for all of its power and “historicity,” the final pages communicate a liberated sensibility, a freedom from the mortal coils that plague a tormented world.
But, in case we bask too easily in the marvels of Beethoven’s Promethean chains unbound, the first chords of the 1825 Grosse Fuge (10 February 1952) cast us into a dark region that will require a flexion of a potent will to achieve release. Again, Obert-Thorn transfers a live performance of the orchestrated version of the fugue, meant originally as a finale to the Quartet, Op. 130. As per expectation, Furtwaengler imposes a feverish stress and tension upon the piece, which already rings with relentless cross rhythms and permutations of the original Overtura fragments. When the episodic surcease of sorrow occurs, the effect becomes heartbreaking in its purity. The unanimity of tone Furtwaengler elicits from the BPO strings has the same resonant fury and Herculean warmth we know from his work in the Bach “Air” from the D Major Suite. If Furtwaengler does not dwell on a “clarification” of Beethoven’s immensely grinding double fugue and its variations, he unleashes the uncanny modernism of the piece, its natural affinity for a mind like that of Bartok. To take in the whole disc at a sitting quite exhausts our emotions, much as Furtwaengler’s Bruckner tests the limits of our aesthetic faith. But for the Furtwaengler acolyte, the disc will remain indispensable.