EMI Classics 3 53206 (2 discs), 61:15; 55:09 ****:
With the exception of Wilhelm Furtwaengler’s collaboration with Yvonne Lefebure (1898-1986) in Lugano (15 May 1954) with the Berlin Phlharmonic, these reissues of the Mozart legacy by the legendary conductor have been staples of the VPO legacy on EMI for some time. The Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1 April 1949) had already been coupled to the Grand Partita (November-December 1947) in a corrupt edition (CDH 7 63818 2) which spliced repeats into several movements where Furtwaengler (1886-1954) had omitted them in the original score. The refurbished sound in the G Minor Symphony December 1948-February 1949) proves quite stunning; and while I find the conception driven hard at times and the tone quite dark, the sustained power and cleanliness of articulation is not to be denied. Even the Menuetto emanates a surly, contrapuntal determinism. A seamless string line dominates the Allegro assai, the winds providing at atmosphere close to the Piano Concerto in C Minor, K. 491. The winds try to lift our spirits, but the rigors of the strings‚ agogics and the demands of sonata form hurl us into Mozart’s personal maelstrom, where even more pleas from the winds cannot abate the overwhelming crisis of spirit.
Wilma Lipp recorded the two Queen of the Night arias with Furtwaengler 3 February 1950. Lipp first came to my attention through her Vox recording of the Beethoven Ninth with Horenstein in the mid 1950s. Cognoscenti sometimes deem her voice small, but it has solid upper power and good, clear projection, a lithe brightness in the coloratura runs. Hers is no less a warm sound, despite the cool, even spiteful demeanor of the role. She cuts loose for Der Hoelle Rache, her head tone easily competitive with perhaps more favored singers like Rita Streich. The opening of the D Minor Concerto might be a bit too deliberate for the Dionysiac crowd, but the lyrical scale of the conception remains impressive. Intimacy is Lefebure’s strong suit, who plays the concerto as a dramma giocoso whose swirling tensions will only be resolved by the D Major concession at the very end. Her fluency in the long lines of the filigree reminds me of Annie Fischer. She sings to herself, shades of the equally noisy Glenn Gould and Rudolf Serkin. The momentum increases and the conviction deepens as the first movement proceeds, so that the intensity just prior to the cadenza (by Fred Goldbeck) is quite palpable. Lefebure’s final runs reveal as much of Bach as they do of her Mozart. Fuerwaengler picks up orchestral tutti with a vengeance, a slick and forceful series of Mannheim rockets to an authoritative conclusion.
The Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is Furtwaengler at his extroverted best, the string work as transparent as it is lovingly phrased. I used to own this performance on a Spanish EMI LP, coupled with the G Minor Symphony. Furtwaengler manages to accord the Menuetto a Masonic character, a bit of noblesse from The Magic Flute. The final Rondo sails on a light breeze. That Koussevitzky, Ansermet, and Furtwaengler found the B-flat Wind Serenade compelling may seem anomalous in their respective, recorded legacies; but each conductor took a decided pride in his orchestra’s wind contingent. Even without repeats, the music enjoys a hearty, outdoor sensibility, and the unabated speed of the opening Allegro molto reminds us that many a conductor takes the opening, say, of Dvorak’s New World Symphony sans repeats.
The stately processional of the Menuetto and Trios I and II has the oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, and later the French horn, in agile harmony. The easy give-and-take of the second Menuetto (Allegretto) hints at what Furtwaengler might have done had he bequeathed us a Jupiter Symphony inscription. The opening of the Adagio, under Furtwaengler, could have been composed by Carl Maria von Weber. The ternary Romanze has nice pedal points and an exemplary bassoon part. Shades of Cosi fan tutte permeate the Theme and (Six) Variations, where each wind soloist becomes an operatic character with his own delightful, colored aria. The final Rondo becomes a Haydnesque, rustic romp through the various woodwind colors, testament that Furtwaengler, for all of his profundity, could pleasantly muse with the masters.
— Gary Lemco