Wilhelm Furtwangler = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique”; R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28; WAGNER: Siegfried's Trauermarsch – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Opus Kura

by | Jan 1, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Wilhelm Furtwangler = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique”; R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28; WAGNER: Siegfried’s Trauermarsch – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwaengler

Opus Kura OPK 2087, 71:42 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Collectors of the legacy of Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) know his 1938 Tchaikovsky “Pathetique” from the EMI “Great Recordings of the Century” series. The dominant affect appears to be a grim determinism and even resistance to fate, rather than the various graduations of self-confession and melancholy. Musicians often marvel at Furtwaengler’s preparations for degrees of acceleration or hesitation in the score, the level of response from the BPO strings and horns. A tragic nobility permeates the progression of movements, marked by stunning moments of exalted lyricism. Furtwaengler indulges the slow Adagio introduction to the first movement, if only to contrast it by willful exertion to the frenzied Allegro, whose metric disjunctions seethe with ineluctable fury. The descending scales in the horns and trombones might parody the Russian liturgy, a nervous progression in unstable B Major.  The lamentoso passages throb with a visceral despair that echo at once Tchaikovsky’s subjective world and Furtwaengler’s crumbling Europe.

The D Major 5/4 “waltz” marked Allegro con grazia, elicits a restored health, a melancholy cheerfulness. Some liquid playing from the BPO brass and low strings, while the upper line trips out its staccati most affectionately. The trio section, however, reverts to that haunted anguish at which Furtwaengler is a past master at projecting. Commentators have often pointed out the emotional anomalies of the G Major Scherzo movement, its seemingly upbeat quick-march set against internal harmonic and metric dislocations. Furtwaengler balances its jittery opening tune with the more majestic martial impulse, making the musical transitions particularly smooth, wonderfully supported by the BPO flute and woodwinds.

Unmitigated sorrow in B Minor dominates the last movement Adagio, the strings dividing up the main theme, the BPO horns punctuated by spasms, sighs, and tears. The terrific crescendo climaxes with trumpets and drums, but the victory remains strictly Pyrrhic. The string line suggests a parody of the more joyful figures in the C Major Serenade for Strings. Placed together, the Scherzo and final Adagio might comment respectively on Germany’s vigorous imperialistic impulses prior to its much-foreseen political catastrophe.

The 1930 Polydor Till Eulenspiegel need suffer no “political” interpretations.  Furtwaengler sets the “once upon a time” tone for the rondo, moving rather briskly into the ironies of this cautionary tale. Nice work from the BPO principal French horn, oboe, flute, bassoon, and solo violin. Furtwaengler captures Till’s swaggering pride and irreverence, the  hubris of character that will entail his serio-comic downfall. The tempo becomes more manic as Till’s adventures becomes increasingly foolhardy, culminating in the blasphemy that condemns him to headsman’s axe. The Opus Kura transfer is remarkably clear for the period, a model of reprocessed sound.

Furtwaengler’s Wagner remains in a class by itself: darkly etched, totally immersed in every nuance of the leitmotiv nexus that permeates the Ring Cycle. This 1933 Polydor excerpt from Gotterdammerung resonates wit epic tragedy and lyricism, the sense of loss girded by mystical sacrifice. What is the line from Macbeth: “Let our trumpets speak?”  When Wagner’s trumpets speak, the doors of Valhalla swing open wide to receive its honored guest.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure