Furtwaengler: The Early Recordings, Vol. 2 = BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture; Symphony No. 5 in C Minor; WEBER: Der Freischuetz – Overture; ROSSINI: Ov. to Il barbiere di Siviglia; Ov. to La gazza ladra – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Furtwaengler – Naxos

by | Jul 30, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Furtwaengler: The Early Recordings, Vol. 2 = BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op. 84; Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67; WEBER: Der Freischuetz – Overture; ROSSINI: Overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia; Overture to La gazza ladra – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwaengler

Naxos Great Conductors 8.111003, 66:38 [Not distr. in the US] ****:

More restorations from the early electrical recordings, 1926-1935, by Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) and his Berlin Philharmonic, the directorship of which he assumed in 1922.  As engineered by Mark Obert-Thorn, the “real” addition to the Furtwaengler legacy is a “full” performance of the Symphony No. 5 (1926), whose original technicians failed to complete the music to splice the two sides of the Scherzo; so, Obert-Thorn felt compelled to utilize corresponding bars from the 1937 inscription to make the transition musically accurate.  The Fifth Symphony in Furtwaengler’s first commercial recording is a driven affair, disregarding the first movement repeat and throttling forward in full fury. The Andante con moto, however, receives a leisurely tempo, an Adagio, as broad and noble a reading as one s likely to hear, given the rather stoic temperament which evolves as a consequence of the approach.  Liquid string playing with the bassoon and horns testify to a firm discipline from Europe’s leading orchestra. The Scherzo’s almost ponderous, ominous tone rings of the message of Fidelio, the heroically tragic urge to freedom.  The contrapuntist assumes a visceral, dizzying speed; then, it relaxes through the flute and bassoon segue to some of the most pianissimo dynamics from the period. The graduated crescendo generates a powerful tension, only surpassed by the Kleibers, Erich and Carlos. The last movement enjoys a fluid mobility; but the basic tempo is too marcato for my personal taste, effective as it is. The presto passages, however, which include many a Mannheim rocket figures, exemplify the homogeneity of tone Furtwangler could urge from his players, a level of execution equaled in that period by Mengelberg, Stokowski, Toscanini, Harty, and Coates.

The program opens with a 1933 Egmont Overture, taken relatively rapidly for Furtwaengler, the slow, molded introduction moving from F Minor to the major with abandon, once Furtwaengler sets the whirring figures in motion. A specialty of Furtwangler’s, Weber’s Overture to Der Freischuetz (16 October 1926), rife with Gothic and magical elements, appealed to the conductor’s predilection for controlled, moody drama. I find Furtwaengler’s gait in this reading both poised and relaxed, given the hard-driving nature of the musical materials. The motion remains fluid, but Furtwaengler still manages to build in pregnant pauses as he intimates at the depths of the Wolf’s Glen Scene. An immense hush falls upon the orchestra just prior to the final explosion of sound, the victorious march singing in eloquent jubilation. The Overture to La Gazza Ladra (1930) captures a moment of roguish charm in Furtwaengler, rare at any time. He plays the opening march pomposo, the French horn in excellent form. The BPO strings and principal flute respond sympathetically, even if the brio and unbuttoned abandon of the Beecham and Toscanini treatments is lacking. The last selection, The Overture to The Barber of Seville (1935), smiles benignly rather than romps with affectionate buffa, a mite Teutonic and heavy. The phrases receive a “rounded” approach that Karajan would push even farther. Short, jabbing staccati mark the presto passages, rather a virtuoso approach, impressive though not stylistic. A debonair reading, certainly, but testifying to the flexibility of the ensemble rather than to the merits of the light, jovial score.

–Gary Lemco

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