19 August 2016

Flashback to 19 August 1951

Orchestral concert at the Salzburg Festival with Furtwängler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic:

Mendelssohn: The Hebrides – concert overture
Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5

This concert is special in certain ways. It is unusually long. It features the then 26-year-old Fischer-Dieskau’s Salzburg Festival debut. Its recording includes the only extant Furtwängler recording of Bruckner 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic. 

The discography of this concert is quite typical of many of Furtwängler’s concert recordings – each piece of music was issued separately, often by different companies, at different times.

Not until 1982 was the whole concert issued on vinyls – by the German Furtwängler Society. Prior to that only the Bruckner symphony appeared first on LPs, issued by the Canadian company Rococo around 1975 (Rococo 2034). In the early 1980s, Furtwängler Societies in Germany and Japan issued recordings of the whole concert on LPs, and these quickly became collector’s items. The Italian company Fonit Cetra issued the Bruckner 5 together with the 1st May 1951 Bruckner 7 in Rome in a box-set (FE 42) in 1984.

Rococo 2034

WFSG F667.497-498M

WFJ 6-7

Fonit Cetra FE42

When it came to the CD era, “official” releases became available, but mostly for the Bruckner 5. EMI issued the recording of this symphony in 1995 with the sound source from a private tape held by the conductor’s wife. The sound is fairly limited. When Orfeo issued the whole concert in their Salzburg Festival box set, the sound has improved. However there are two unofficial releases with surprisingly good sound. One is from Arkadia (1993) with a well balanced sound. Another is from Grand Slam (2015), which used a 2-track reel-to-reel tape as the sound source. The sound is immediate and full-bodied with an emphasis on the bass. It is a pleasure to listen to it.

Orfeo C409048L (8-CD set) and C336931B

From left to right: Grand Slam GS-2133; Orfeo C409048L; EMI CDH 5657502; Arkadia CDWFE 360.1

Many would prefer Furtwängler’s wartime Bruckner 5 with the Berlin Philharmonic, but this Vienna Philharmonic rendition has attractions in its own right, be it the woodwind timbre and playing, or the silky violin tone.  There may be imperfections in the ensemble, particularly in the finale, but the unique lure of Furtwängler’s approach to Bruckner more than compensates for them.

11 July 2016

Furtwängler's Brahms Symphony No. 1 recording on 13 August 1947

Although the Salzburg Festival resumed soon after WWII in the summer of 1945, Furtwängler could only take part in it after his denazification in 1947. Thereafter he appeared in each subsequent year’s, except 1952’s when he was ill, until his death in 1954. What is unfortunate about his Salzburg Festival concert recordings is that the original tapes of Radio Rotweissrot, which was responsible for Salzburg Festival broadcasts up to 1954, no longer exist. Only a copy tape of his last concert in 1954 survives in the archives of the Salzburg Landesstudio. The majority of his Salzburg Festival concert recordings had their sound source from private collectors.

In 2004, upon the 50th anniversary of Furtwängler’s death, Salzburg Festival granted the right to Orfeo to release a special limited edition of his extant post-war concert recordings in 8 CDs: “Wilhelm Furtwängler – Die Salzburger Orchesterkonzerte 1949-1954” (C409048L). It was supposed to be exhaustive. However, it was known to collectors that a Brahms Symphony No. 1 recording dated 13 August 1947 had been released by Disques Refrain (DR920022) in the 1990s and later by Furtwängler societies in Japan, but this recording was not included in the box set. Although its authenticity has been doubted, mainly in Europe, Japanese collectors are adamant that this recording is the real thing, so much so that they added it as a bonus disc to the local Japanese release of this box set by King Records (KICC 90945-90952) in 2011. Obviously this particular box set was sold out rapidly and collectors’ attention to this 13 August 1947 recording soared. In 2012, Naoya Hirabayashi, a Japanese music critic who founded the Grand Slam label, released this recording (Grand Slam GS-2086) with the sound source being a DAT obtained from a German collector.

The Orfeo release and the Grand Slam GS-2086.

The poster of the local Japanese release of the Salzburg Festival box set with a bonus CD of this Brahms recording.

This Brahms 1 is a passionate account, even by Furtwängler’s standard, with mesmerising violin and beautiful woodwind playing. Once you’ve listened to it, you’ll understand why the Japanese collectors are so drawn to it.

22 June 2016

Wilhelm Furtwängler Talking about Music

Two days after Furtwängler conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in a special concert at the Titania-Palast on 20 June 1950, he was invited by Werner Egk to have a colloquium at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik. It was repeated in February 1951. These 2 talks on music were recorded by Deutsche Grammophon, and excerpts of these were issued on LPs included in box sets over the years.

Titled “Snippets of Discussions and Interviews”, these excerpts were first issued in a 6-LP “Wilhelm Furtwängler in Memoriam” box set in late 1963, for the 10th anniversary of the maestro’s passing. Karla Höcker selected and compiled the excerpts which open with “The Essence is the Work” and then cover 6 areas in 29 tracks: About the Tempo, Acoustics in Large and Small Halls, Technique and Expression, Style Questions, Conductor-Problems, and Music in the Opera.

These were reissued around 1968 in the budget label Heliodor’s 8-LP “Wilhelm Furtwängler Berliner Philharmoniker” box set, and then in 1979 in another DGG 10-LP box set, “Das Vermächtnis Wilhelm Furtwängler”. Part of these excerpts also appeared on one side of the last LP in the Berliner Philharmoniker 100th anniversary commemorative box set issued in 1982.

On CDs, parts (totally only 26’58”) of these two colloquia together with radio interviews were included in the bonus CD in the Japanese 33-CD box set in 1994 (POCG 9476-9508, duration of 26’58”). More recently, “The Complete RIAS Recordings” 12-plus-1-CD box set by Audite also included Furtwängler’s colloquium on the art of interpretation on 27 February 1951.

Many of his views are insightful. One example is on precision:
“To obtain precision, if one beats firmly and clearly, is very simple. But to combine with this firm and clear beat all the other qualities which one wants to and must obtain from the orchestra – either a hard sound or a gentle sound, a legato, a staccato, transitions, all these – is also part of conducting technique. Everyone’s technique is different.”