SCHUMANN: Manfred Overture; Symphony No. 4; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 – Swiss Festival Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Audite 

by | Mar 20, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews

Audite restores the last of Furtwaengler’s glorious appearances in Lucerne, Switzerland. 

SCHUMANN: Manfred Overture, Op. 115; Symphony No. 4 in d minor, Op. 120; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica” – Swiss Festival Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Audite 23.441 (2 CDs) 66:10; 30:39 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

“This review is dedicated to the memory of my distinguished and venerable mentor,  Carmine Arena (1931-2018)” — GL

The complete concert from the Kunsthaus, Lucerne 26 August 1953 comes as a streak of lightning from the archives of recorded music, featuring a performance of the 1848 Overture to Manfred, long assumed lost. It was in 1947 that Furtwaengler resumed his activities in Switzerland; and with exception of 1952, he led the Swiss Festival Orchestra consecutively until 1954. The present concert marks Furtwaengler’s final performance with the Swiss Festival Orchestra; and his reading of the Schumann Fourth Symphony comes to us only weeks after he had committed the work to commercial DGG studio use with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  A dark, manic urgency permeates both Schumann works, a tragic intensity that never relinquishes its layered, polyphonic resonance. The level of orchestral response remains the most salient feature, from the poised nuances on the high winds to the stern, sumptuous gloom of the low bass fiddles.  Many purists will once more balk at Furtwaengler’s license with tempos, but the colossal impact of the measured realization of Byron’s melancholy hero—who wanders through Alpine regions seeking either death or oblivion for some unnamed crime—keeps us in thrall until the final, collapsing energies of the music’s bitter resignation.

The renowned Beethoven Eroica (16 December 1944) with the Vienna Philharmonic from the Musikverein under Furtwaengler still reigns for many as “definitive”in the Beethoven symphonic experience.  Here, in Lucerne, Furtwaengler raises the specter of that vision with remarkable consistency, his erratic tempos and sense of the huge architecture and intrusive, often jarring accents virtually indistinguishable from his realization almost a decade earlier, and under the most adverse and perverse moral circumstances. Furtwaengler conceives the E minor secondary theme as false consolation for the disjunctions of the metric pulse. The heart of the work finds the Marcia funebre: Adagio assai tormented, grueling, and valedictory at once, but always proceeding with a majestic dignity. The Scherzo seems to emerge from a haunted distance, only gradually assuming an aggressive clarity and piercing, dynamic thrust. The entire symphony—a testament to the heroic impulse to confront and overcome former weakness—emerges in the French horns and high winds as a call to personal integrity in the face of the world’s urge to physical and moral entropy. Indeed, the “Promethean” element applies not merely to the balletic form of the composer’s E-flat Variations of Op. 35, but as a conscious gesture of spiritual renewal made flesh through the art of music perceived as a humane, moral imperative.

The Schumann Fourth Symphony occupies the second disc alone. From the taut, spacious opening chords that begin the work—and thematically define its entIre character—Furtwaengler remains true to Schumann’s intent that conceived the music as one movement organically inter-connected and moving to its glorious conclusion via a bridge passage in the manner of the Beethoven Fifth. Michel Schwalbe, concertmaster in Lucerne and soon to be recruited for Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic, intones the solo for the Romanze movement.  Besides pouring accolades on the individual color instruments—oboe, bassoon, and French horn—we must not overlook the potent tympani part that invests a perpetual and heroic drama to the proceedings. What transcends the sum of the music’s collective parts lies in Furtwaengler’s capacity to evoke a sense of mysticism from the players, who generate a homogenous, intensely refined sound that the Audite personnel have captured with blazing authority.

—Gary Lemco




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