Wilhelm Furtwängler: SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique” – Berlin Philharmonic – Pristine Audio

by | Dec 27, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique” – Tibor de Machula, cello/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Pristine Audio PASC 545, 71:33 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Andrew Rose and Pristine resuscitate two appearances by Wilhelm Furtwaengler with “his wife,” the Berlin Philharmonic, the first from the War years (28 October 1942) in the music of Schumann, the Cello Concerto in A minor with first principal Tibor de Machula (1912-1982).  The work, composed in a two- week period in 1850, originally meant to be a “concert piece,” but Schumann fashioned one of his many late-period structures that employs opening materials in a variety of forms. True to a “Konzertstueck,” the piece dissolves the three-movements into an ongoing, single movement that saves the traditional cadenza for the final movement. The orchestration of this concerto proves relatively transparent, with the cello’s luxuriating in the soft ambience of plucked strings and woodwinds in the Langsam second movement, a moment of glowing intimacy. Furtwaengler lures some true grumblings for the transition to the last movement, Sehr lebhaft, a martial and energetic gesture with elements of a scherzo. Machula exhibits any number of suave moves as the music gravitates from poetic musing into ardent, dramatic declamations.  Having elided a large orchestral tutti in the first movement, Schumann gives the orchestra freer play in this last movement, with Furtwaengler’s exacting a fury that has moments rivaling Beethoven. The cadenza, too, does not allot Machula sole display, but incorporates an accompaniment rife with dramatic orchestral punctuations. The music then gathers breezy momentum as it moves to a potent coda in which the tympani plays no small part.

Many record connoisseurs have awaited the refurbishing of the live 1951 Cairo performance of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique (19-22 April) in which Furtwaengler surpasses his historic commercial recording of 1938. The wonder of both the Furtwaengler surveys of this Tchaikovsky symphony lies in his seamless handling of transition passages, so many based on appoggiaturas. While the opening Adagio has its explosive moment, the ensuing nocturne colored by Russian doxology, pure anguished melancholy, exhibits a wonderful sense of breathed phrasing. Perhaps the closest comparison that comes to mind might be that performance with the Czech Philharmonic under Vaclav Talich, for sheer spaciousness and heartfelt pathos. We know the caesura brings the gigantic entry of the Allegro non troppo, but the terror of the moment arrives unabated. The mortal storm has the Berlin strings, winds, horns and tympani in full fury, all building to a martial period that clearly engages life’s opposing forces. Emotionally, the driving, even titanic, impetus of this performance proves the equal of the more “flamboyant” conductors of the score, Mravinsky, Mitropoulos, and Mengelberg. The expansive melodic line now dominates in its grand heartache, the thousand natural shocks to which flesh is heir. As an aside, I wonder if the imprint of Oskar Fried’s tenure with the Philharmonic in this work had left a lasting impression on Furtwaengler’s conception.

The haunted Allegro con grazia in 5/4 receives a piercing, etched rendition here in Cairo, a combination of calculated lyricism and balletic gesture. The horn work accompanying the arching strings hints at some tension behind the idyll. The middle section projects the “heartbeat” pulsation we recall from Furtwaengler’s exemplary first movement in the Fourth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic. The da capo intimates the tragic resignation that literally defines this work’s compulsive ethos. The militant Allegro molto vivace certainly proffers a grand march, it too colored by the ballet, but its underlying tenor betrays disjunction and anxiety. Once more, Furtwaengler’s fluid, sweeping transitions compel our awe, and these adjustments can be as acerbic as they can educe lyric evocation. This movement achieves a bitter, demonic resolve as the composer raises his fist against his fate. Finally, the anguished Adagio lamentoso erupts to make its ineluctable progress as the composer’s symphonic swan-song. Long phrases over held pedal points, sighs, and descending scales assume a vast array of color, particularly from the low winds.  Never does Furtrwaengler relinquish his dramatic grip on this extended elegy, nor does his innate sense of nobility yield to morbid or inflated sentiment. The colossal climaxes prove as sincerely stunning as the most drooping submissions to catastrophe.  Mr. Andrew Rose states the matter most succinctly: “Certainly it’s a Pathetique to savour.”

—Gary Lemco