SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 & BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 cond. by Furtwaengler – Praga Digitals

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “Great”; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in d minor, Op. 125 “Choral”: Fourth Movement – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, sop./ Elsa Cavelti, mezzo-sop./ Ernst Haefliger, tenor/ Otto Edelmann, bar./ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Schubert)/ Philharmonia Orch. of London/ Lucerne Festival Choir/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Praga Digitals PRD 350085, 79:27 (1/8/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

The performance of the Schubert Great Symphony in C Major (1-4 December 1951) has already gleaned many plaudits – along with his 1953 recording – over the years, given the Berlin Philharmonic’s glorious response to Furtwaengler’s often idiosyncratic tempos and metric adjustments. For me, the wonder of the inscription lies in the a minor second movement, whose progression in somber thirds Furtwangler converts into a mystical march, whether funereal or triumphant, by turns. The conclusion of the second movement, a shattering discordance in thick counterpoint, conveys a world tragedy of epic proportions. No less magical, the transition in the third movement, when A Major appears out of the flurries of the C Major onrush of the opening motif, a metamorphosis achieved by the repeat of a single note. The two outer movements enjoy a breadth of conception and lyric leisure often at odds with their respective, dynamic energies. Despite the collision of contrary rhythmic pulses in the first movement, Furtwaengler imposes a grand serenity over the progression, confident that its contraries will find resolution. And besides the manic flow of the Allegro vivace last movement, Furtwaengler emphasizes its “whistling” songfulness, especially in the winds and the trombones. For a moment, shades of the contemporary Beethoven Ninth Symphony appear, a glib quotation of the “Ode” motif, in pianissimo clarinets and strings, homage to the giant of music even in Schubert’s humble estimate.

The Beethoven Ninth fragment, live from the Lucerne Festival (22 August 1954), represents the conductor’s last engagement with this monument in music, and his vocalists seem alert to the valediction of the occasion. Baritone Otto Edelmann proves no less than astonishing in the broad timbre of his opening invocation to a higher incarnation of music. The “scherzo” of the section – a janissary march urged by tenor Ernst Haefliger – invokes a colossal polyphony, the strings and the winds of the Philharmonia in ferocious stretto. No less inspired, the Lucerne Festival Chorus delivers consistent hammer blows in its cadence-landings. Rarely has “Seid umschlungen, millionen” resonated with such tragic dignity among the various voice parts. The glowing pulse of the sustained chord before their own fugal section invokes some religious mystery from Corinthians 15:51. The final Allegro assai moves with flexible grace and no small acceleration, a frenzied plummet upwards, repeating deine zauber to invoke the inexplicable alchemy of Divine Love. The final quartet has Schwarzkopf’s floating tone well above the human throng. The janissary march return in ecstatic Furtwaengler fury, a dervish rapture that might as well have invoked pandemonium in Heaven, rather than Peace on Earth.

Praga dedicates the disc to the memory of Rene Tremine (1944-2014), who in collaboration with Myriam Scherchen, created the splendid Tahra label as an immortal resource for the Furtwaengler recorded legacy.

—Gary Lemco

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