FURTWÄNGLER conducts R. STRAUSS = Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; Domestic Symphony – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwängler – Pristine Audio

by | Jul 2, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

FURTWÄNGLER conducts R. STRAUSS = Don Juan, Op. 20; Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28; Domestic Symphony, Op. 53 – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwängler – Pristine Audio PASC 718 (75:06) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

While lingering moral objections may plague this release of performances taped in Berlin, Germany 1942 and 1944, the quality of musicianship – separating ethics from aesthetics – remains indisputable, given the level of craftsmanship conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) had achieved with his honed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which he led from 1922-1945 and from 1952 until his sudden death. In his accompanying liner notes, producer Andre Rose cites two notations on Furtwängler by Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, testifying to the mutual opportunism of the conductor and the regime, though the later document expresses disenchantment and grave doubts as to Furtwängler’s loyalties. History appears to have made peace with the two musicians, composer Richard Strauss and conductor Willhelm Furtwängler, finding in their personal lives extenuating circumstances and moments of genuine compassion for those victimized by Europe’s most despicable, political regime. 

Furtwängler’s rendition of the 1888 symphonic poem Don Juan (15-17 February 1942) opens with a torrential sense of hedonistic swagger, the protagonist’s having been adapted from Nikolaus Lenau, whose 1844 unfinished poem Strauss characterized as “a storm of pleasure.” The hectic changes of impulse, the pursuit of the Don’s next conquest, the momentary ecstasies, and the nervous, catapulted tension of adventure, Furtwängler and his ensemble, particularly the woodwinds and brass, deliver with ferocious, vivid colors. In the extended slow section, the BPO oboe comports himself with sensuous dignity. Followed by mistily vibrant strings. The horns, of course, savor their convulsively heroic gestures before an abrupt, pregnant halt designates the Don’s concession to existential despair. The expressive intensity sustained throughout the reading quite defines the Furtwangler experience, unhappily, never so luscious as realized during Germany’s most degraded period. The restored ambiance from Pristine’s XR process proves nothing less than apocalyptic in the music’s climaxes.

“Once upon a time there was a clowning rogue whose name was Till Eulenspiegel” inscribed Richard Strauss over the horn part to his 1894 score of his tone-poem after the 1300 picaresque hero. Furwaengler and the BPO address the score in the concerts of 13-16 November 1943, and their approach reveals a delicate affection for the rogue’s playful and eventually fatal antics. The violin solo, likely Erich Roehn, as he had in Don Juan, exhibits a silken facility. Given Till’s anti-authoritarian nature, his persistent provocations of the established order, we might wonder how much of Wilhelm Furtwängler emerges from this blithely ferocious, brilliant performance. The favored horn part, the whistling flutes, the triple-tongued brass, all contribute to an aroused realization, a reverberant response to the music’s progress instills in us a real sense of what the hall’s destruction cost. 

The 1903 Symphonia Domestica, Op.  53 by Richard Strauss sets a five-part (or six-part, considering a kind of epilogue), continuously evolving scenario of the Strauss family life, complete with opening fireside bliss, baby cries, a lullaby, a passionate love-scene, a breakfast moment, and a family’s bonding via a triple fugue. Both critic Romain Rolland and conductor Gustav Mahler found the love music offense to polite taste, given its graphic depiction of connubial intimacies. Furtwangler leads a performance from the concert series 9-12 January 1944, only weeks before Allied bombs destroyed the illustrious concert venue. The music, through-composed as to maintain structural consistency in its episodic permutations, typifies a twenty-four hour program for the Strauss family, even if extended Adagio the love scene attempts to transcend Wagner’s conception of inflamed passion. The infant’s cradle-song, too, seems to have pointed to incipient raptures. The sheer harmonic audacities of the “mounting” love-scene warrant musicological attention; but let it suffice that Furtwängler, no stranger to “the eternal feminine,” does full justice to Strauss’s immediate, frenzied stage of the erotic. That “domestic tranquility” could be envisioned musically at such a moment in German history must charm those with a caustic sense of irony, given the attendant audience were those who supported a leader Furtwängler once openly condemned as “an enemy of the human race.”

—Gary Lemco 

More information through Pristine

Album Cover for Furtwängler Conducts R. Strauss   


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