Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts First Viennese School = MOZART: Marriage of Figaro Ov.; Sym. No. 40; HAYDN: Sym. No. 88 – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Berlin Philharmonic Orch. – Praga Digitals

by | Oct 1, 2016 | Classical Reissue Reviews

In restored sound, classic Wilhelm Furtwaengler restorations embrace his Mozart and Haydn. 

Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts First Viennese School = MOZART: The Marriage of Figaro Ov., K. 492; Sym. No. 40 in g, K. 550; HAYDN: Sym. No. 88 in G Major; Sym. No. 94 in G Major, “Surprise” – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Praga Digitals PRD 350126, 73:18 (9/30/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

In my younger days, with my having read Bruno Walter’s Of Music and Music-Making, I became convinced that anyone – over the age of 50 – who could render Mozart’s 1788 Fortieth Symphony properly had discovered one of the great secrets of the artistic universe.  Listening to Praga’s restoration of Wilhelm Furtwaengler’s recording (7-8 December 1948 & 17 February 1949) with the Vienna Philharmonic, I am impressed with the intensity and willful drive of his vision, especially its tragically serene majesty, which moves not at all slowly or lugubriously, but with an urgent, relentless power. The “digression” into f-sharp minor in the course of the first movement provides but one of a number of agogic or harmonic ventures that indicate that below a controlled surface, dark rustlings of Dionysos prevail. The E-flat Major Andante has its own chromatic sojourns, making us realize that Mozart well knew the “heart of darkness” but chose to exalt the Apollinian way of logic and conciliation. An often somber Menuetto in the minor mode hardly consoles us, despite the Trio in G Major and its resonant oboes. The finale finds some solace in sonata-form, but not without the “terror by night” that flutters by, only to be absorbed in a brilliant coda that accepts Him who giveth and taketh away without rancor.

Wilhelm Furtwaengler and the music of Haydn has always struck me as an anomaly, given the conductor’s essentially tragic ethos. The sunny 1787 Symphony No. 88 – first heard by me on 78s with Eugene Ormandy and then committed to heart by Bruno Walter –  betokens calm and confidence in every measure. If the first movement Adagio – Allegro celebrates the sonorities of the woodwinds, the noble Andante proffers a broad melody whose nuance elicit powerfully enchanting harmonies from Furtwaengler’s “wife,” the Berlin Philharmonic’s strings and tympani (18-19 June 1950). Real power emerges at the Menuetto – the same austere energy we find in the third movement of Furtwaengler’s third movement of the Mozart Symphony No. 39 – a colossal version of an otherwise charming court dance. The drone figures of the rustic Trio section sound less like a rustic excursion than “death takes a holiday.” What we must admire is the immediate response Furtwaengler gleans from his well-honed ensemble. The usually bubbly Finale: Allegro con spirito – which beams and cavorts via other conductors – here casts a sense of imminent danger, Poe’s line in “The Haunted Palace” about ghostly beings who “laugh but smile no more.” Still, the epic counterpoint between upper and lower strings proves a marvel of both invention and execution.

If Haydn’s music possesses mystical possibilities, certainly Furtwaengler is the conductor to reveal them.  His recording (11-12 & 17 January 1951) of the Symphony No. 94 in G Major with his “mistress” Vienna Philharmonic gives us opening chords in an Adagio of eerie power.  The succeeding Vivace utters equally fervent and jarring passing dissonances below a well-oiled surface. Furtwaengler’s tempos are not polite, and he urges the syncopations with singular agility. The recapitulation extends rather than merely “repeats” the thematic material. A stately dignity informs the famous second movement Andante, with its sudden forte from the whole orchestra. Furtwaengler’s rendition of this alternately sweetly decorative movement and stormy music instantiates the Viennese style itself.  The verve and upward power of the Mannheim figures will raise envy in any conductor’s notion of orchestral response, both in the woodwinds and the trumpets. What follows, the Menuetto – Allegro molto – takes the form of jaunty and aggressive dash of Viennese color. The delightful Trio adds the color of the bassoon to the inventive mix.  The Finale: Allegro di molto revels in spectacular feats and lifts, an acrobat of color for a virtuoso ensemble. This music does laugh as well as smile, without any trace of tragic irony.

The “dessert” of this disc has come first: we have from the Salzburg Festival Furtwaengler’s 7 August 1953 reading of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, darkly aggressive to be sure, but explosive in a fevered way that compels re-hearing. If Mozart wanted Jupiter to attend the nuptials, he had Furtwaengler send him an invitation.

—Gary Lemco

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