Furtwaengler en Tournee = MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – Berlin Philharmonic/Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Tahra

by | Nov 11, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Furtwaengler en Tournee = MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – Berlin Philharmonic/Wilhelm Furtwaengler

Tahra TAH FURT 2007, 67:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:


Tahra restores the concert of 10 June 1949 from a Weisbaden tour, in which Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) played music by Pfitzner, Mozart, and Brahms.  The excerpts from Palestrina are not included in the CD.

The Mozart G Minor Symphony provides a perfect example of Furtwaengler’s passionately restrained approach to the tragic muse in this composer. A decidedly nervous tremor runs through the outer movements, a sense of furious angst that often catapults us towards the abyss. The pace, though not quick, remains rather steadfast and streamlined; still we can savor the pointed modulations that alter the academic aspects of sonata-form into a drama of internally significant proportions. The E-flat Andante casts an expressive autumnal hue over us, occasionally exploding into fragments of dialogue on mortality. The uneasy Minuet flings any number of three-bar phrases at us, the cross rhythms ill-suited to the niceties of court life. Furtwaengler churns this brew with an aggressive hand, although the G Major trio relents in its emotional upheaval. The finale, despite its eight-bar phrases, contains fevers of another kind, a hastening towards some ghostly ship as wraiths tread a chromatic path from whose bourne few travelers return.

The Brahms Fourth grudgingly releases each of the opening, rocking phrases that trace its ascents and descents in thirds. Furtwaengler here exerts his Romantic’s ethos upon this music, often adjusting the interior rhythmic pulse to suit his own colossal ends. That the whole maintains a structural rigor and unified emotional logic testifies to the fierce discipline and stylistic familiarity Furtwaengler enjoyed over and with his Berlin Philharmonic. The momentum of the first movement becomes quite fierce in spite–or because of–its close adherence to sonata-form strictures, the struggles of a genie in a strait-jacket. The last pages fall upon us with shattering clarity, almost an irrevocable wail of destiny.

Whether the Phrygian cast of the E Major second movement offers any relief from the tragic muse remains debatable, since the procession may well be an autumnal dirge. Furtwaengler’s transition to the expressive theme from the pizzicati simply stuns in its graceful inevitability. A grand largesse of spirit permeates this interpretation; still, we hear dark shades that point to Wagner and Mahler, in league perhaps with the composer’s own timely remarks that a way of life was moving to its dissolution. The onrushes in C Major in 2/2 of the unbuttoned Scherzo hardly alleviate the gloom, although a jolting frenzy they do communicate. However forced the mirth, the energy moves fervently, if rather metronomically, for a Furtwaengler realization. The trio does manage some remnants of a serenade, but only to be shattered by the rough-hewn gambols of the Scherzo proper. A bit of ragged ensemble near the end of the movement does not injure our sense of aesthetic purpose.

Clearly, Furtwaengler sees the chaconne at the end of the symphony as the culmination of the composer’s efforts to fuse a baroque sense of form with the torments of fin-de-siecle Romanticism. The interior sweep of the performance might be akin to those winds which hound Francesca and Paolo in the second circle of Inferno. Not even the love song from the flute can assuage the chaos sewn into the chorale bass taken from Bach. Those who speculate that Brahms composed the E Minor Symphony as a response to Greek tragedies may find their advocate in this visionary reading, in which the Furies themselves may have dictated the conductor’s tempos.

–Gary Lemco

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