SCHUBERT par Furtwaengler: Rosamunde: Entr’acte No. 3 in E-flat Major; Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “Great” – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Ninth Symphony)/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler
Tahra Furt 2006, 58:20 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Tahra’s two Schubert restorations from wartime Europe–the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv liberated from Soviet possession–capture Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) at the peak of his form, the sonic definition of the Rosamunde entr’acte (3 June 1944) particularly keen and softly etched. The Schubert Ninth (6-8 December 1942) arises out of a bleak historical period, but it sings a song of exalted lamentation and aspiration. The occasional hysteria in the visceral execution we recall from the conductor’s esteemed reading of the Beethoven Ninth from the same, tormented period in history. Cadence endings have a way of screaming and then ascending in a rapture from Blake’s Beulah-land, a musical marriage of heaven and hell. The degree of response in the Berlin Philharmonic woodwinds, tympani, and secondary strings proves remarkable, the layered effects and stretti maintaining a unity in diversity, as the repeated, martial figures alter their tenor and timbre. Each, renewed–often manic- acceleration of tempo in the first movement hurtles us into an abyss mitigated by the universality of Schubert’s grace.
The crux of Furtwangler’s conception lies in the magnificent Andante con moto, a darkly strutting walk-march that often eases into tranquility followed by cosmic anguish. Ethereal energies mark the transition to the trio section, where every degree of forgiveness reigns. Furtwaengler slows the rhythmic-harmonic progression to a static pulse, then French horn and strings allow the maerchen to revive themselves for the da capo, which itself intensifies into near delirium. The dark theme over plucked strings–with added oboe and string trills–must be the Angel of Mercy. The final restatements of the theme might be a cardiac surgeon’s massaging a human heart.
The Scherzo and Trio proceed with a touch of rubato at the phrase endings, a grand, singing line and forceful resolve marking each of the musical periods. Some real bite in the brass and tympani, a hurricane attempting to smile. Despite the underlying tensions, Furtwaengler cannot help communicating the schwung and innate, Viennese lilt of the musical figures. To bring beauty out of the Abyss–or the birth of Venus from cosmic mutilation–isn’t that the appropriate archetype? The last movement harnesses the whirlwind out of which Job received his fateful message. The trumpet work alone warrants our price of admission. Whether we are descending into Poe’s maelstrom or climbing the Mount of Purgatory becomes irrelevant or impossible to distinguish. The flutes echo Gluck’s shades as they try to console Orpheus. The maenads, however, will not be satisfied until the blood-dimm’d tide is loosed, and Furtwaengler writes this grimly “idyllic” message on a wall for anyone with a heart to read.