SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – Walter Gieseking, piano/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Opus Kura

by | Dec 29, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – Walter Gieseking, piano/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler

Opus Kura 7012, 70:53 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

These recordings from the RRG archives made 1942/1943 are part of the collection of tapes restored by the Soviets after they had been confiscated in 1945.  The Schumann Concerto, recorded live 1942, has been available via DGG on their series of Wilhelm Furtwaengler archival materials. Members of the Wilhelm Furtwaengler Society and collectors can verify the dates for these inscriptions, whose sound by the way, is quite strong for the period.  The oboe part in the Allegro affections of the Schumann Concerto shines quite distinctly, and except for a constant, low surface crackle, the acoustical qualities of Gieseking’s solo are clear and balanced. The Japanese have made some pitch adjustments, but there are still some muddy passages in the first movement development and cadenza sections.  The Intermezzo has enough orchestral girth to make the effect Brahmsian, a symphonic movement with piano obbligato.  The Allegro vivace is one of Schumann’s skittish maerchen: half march, half fairy-tale. Gieseking can play speedy, non-legato passagework like few others for diaphanous sound.

From the opening cadences of the Brahms E Minor Symphony, we are thrust into a tragic maelstrom, in which the Berlin Philharmonic strings shriek for mercy. The pizzicati all but pluck your eyes out. It is a sad fact that Furtwaengler achieved much of his finest work in the throes of the cultural mayhem of WW II Germany.  The Berlin Philharmonic is so acutely fine-tuned to their conductor’s slightest gesture, the music becomes almost expressionistic. Basses and tympani writhe in fever pitch, and we won’t hear the like until Kondrashin leads the Shostakovich Baba Yar; or, if you care to audition Furtwaengler’s Beethoven Ninth from the same period [Sampled on the Great Conductors of the Third Reich DVD which we reviewed..Ed.] .  The hysteria in this performance tries to make the classicism and demand for order in Brahms a bastion against moral apocalypse. Absolutely riveting musicianship, but not for the faint of heart. This time, Opus Kura doesn’t bother to provide any English equivalent in their liner notes.

– Gary Lemco   

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