Opus Kura OPK 7017, 79:37 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
For collectors of conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler (1886-1954), these wartime broadcast performances, 1943-1944, are likely standard, having been issued through DGG some twelve years ago from Melodiya archives. Opus Kura has re-filtered the sources, making for some highly “present” interaction, especially between the fiery concertmaster Erich Roehn and Furtwaengler’s massive orchestral accompaniment. The architectural lines are similar to, albeit more Apollinian than, those Furtwaengler would apply in 1953 with his other German soloist, Wolfgang Schneiderhahn. What quite impresses one is the extraordinary discipline of the Berlin Philharmonic, their homogeneity of tone and quick responsiveness to sudden accelerations or decelerations of tempo. Roehn’s is a thin, lean, pungently pure violin line, the intonation accurate and fluent. Furtwaengler’s tympanist surely insists on being heard. [That may just be the result of the restoration engineer preferring plenty of bass!…Ed.] Roehn plays the Kreisler cadenza. Furtwaengler’s penchant for slow, deliberate tempos and clear articulation of the wind filigree figures elegantly in the G Major theme and variations. Roehn applies a more rasping tone for the Rondo, and the tympani responds by resounding at the cadences. The collaboration retains a light hand; nevertheless, the dancing figures are always both exalted and explosive. A great performance from Europe’s tormented past.
Furtwaengler’s approach to the B-flat Symphony (1943) is as dark as is Toscanini’s commercial release. Despite the almost morbidly mysterious breadth Furtwaengler gives the opening of the first movement, he does not take the repeat. When the Allegro cuts loose, it laughs but does not smile. The secondary theme Furtwaengler takes pesant, but it builds to a terrific, cumulative energy. Flute and bassoon integrate well with tragic strings. The Adagio could be a lament for Germany, and for all Mankind. The string line approaches the Ninth Symphony at several moments. Some tubby sound in the Allegro vivace, but in no way does it dispel the often hair-raising, ferocious effect. Furtwaengler molds the trio material with care, making of it another portentous vision: Beethoven the forerunner of Bruckner. More thunderbolts for the Allegro ma non troppo finale. The bassoon is muffled but audible. The titanic momentum of the playing is what mesmerizes one, an unleashing of punishing energy. Furtwaengler may have been the Biblical Nathan in another life, a prophet beckoning divine fire on a sinful nation. Potent even after 60 years.
Opus Kura’s liner notes are strictly in Japanese, with no discernible recording data.
— Gary Lemco