- Audio CD (Oct 28 2003)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 4
- Label: SRI Canada
- ASIN: B00001W09Z
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #32,671 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
Disc 1: The 1944 VPO Eroica is an incredibly white-hot reading - quite simply one of the greatest Beethoven performances ever recorded. I first owned this on a miserably transferred Vox Turnabout LP that was so sharp that the Eroica was virtually in E major instead of E flat. M & A's transfer is correctly pitched and is the finest I have heard. However, I think that most listeners may derive more pleasure from the beautiful sound of the 1952 BPO version found on Tahra 1054/7. The performance is less intense, but the sonics are vastly superior. It is also far more committed than the studio reading on EMI.
This 1943 BPO Coriolan Overture is the greatest statement of the score ever to reach my ears. What extraordinary passion and commitment! The 1944 VPO Leonore Overture is superb - it's even finer than the reading in the 1950 complete Fidelio with Patzak & Flagstad.
Disc 2: This 1943 BPO 5th has been my benchmark ever since first hearing it on a Unicorn LP. The crescendo from the Scherzo into the Finale here has to be heard to be believed - it is one of the grandest moments in all of recorded Beethoven. This 5th is also available on Tahra 272, coupled with a superb 1945 Pastoral conducted by Hermann Abendroth. The Tahra transfer is a little better, but the difference is very slight. I only play this 5th once in awhile, so as not to diminish the impact of its rather "over the top" interpretation. For more frequent consumption, I tend to play the 1937 Berlin studio (on Biddulph 006) and the magnificent 1954 BPO on Tahra 1054/7. The live 1947 BPO (on deleted M&A) is also fascinating, if a shade eccentric. All in all, the 1954 BPO on Tahra offers the best combination of inspired playing and satisfying sound.
I am rather ambivalent about this 1944 BPO Pastoral. It's VERY dramatic, but perhaps a bit too much so for the nature of the work: parts of it feel too slow, while other are a trifle hectic. The VPO studio EMI is much mellower and has better sound. The 1954 BPO on Tahra 1054/7 offers what I feel is the best trade-off: a great performance in extremely good sound.
CD 3: This 1943 BPO is THE great Beethoven 4th in my view. The 1943 BPO 7th is Furtwangler's most dramatic account - it's my favorite. However, the more measured EMI studio account is also very fine, and the sound is vastly superior.
CD 4: This stunning 1942 9th is the most dramatic reading ever. The Adagio is Furtwangler's most expansive - what incredibly rhapsodic playing! The Scherzo is magnificent. In the Finale, the extended chord before the "Turkish Music" is wonderfully inspired. The choral work is intensely committed, and the soloists are excellent (except for Tilla Briem's high notes). As with the 5th in this set, I can't listen to this performance very often - it's almost painful in its raw power. The great live 1951 Bayreuth on EMI has a much better soprano (Schwarzkopf at her very best), far better sound, and perhaps a more optimal balance of mind and heart. Both, to my mind, are absolutely mandatory listening, along with the weightier, more meditative 1954 Philharmonia from just 3 months before Furtwangler's death (best heard on Tahra 1054/7).
This M&A set is a vital component of any representative Beethoven collection. It also features notes taken from John Ardoin's "The Furtwangler Record," although Ardoin's comments on the Leonore III in this set are curiously omitted. But I am sure that anyone interested in Furtwangler will want to have the whole book anyway.
The first movement of the 7th opens with tremendous energy. The second movement seems to stalk the nervously coughing audience, dancing its beautiful, ominous way among them.
The first time I heard the 9th was on my commute home. The third movement is sublime, heartbreaking -- I was just not ready for the affect it had on me. The music has such a gentle, compassionate, at times tragic voice, ultimately building in power to remind you that through the music you are touching the infinite, both terrible and beautiful beyond comprehension, and then returning to gentleness again after revealing the weight of its truth.
And then there's the historical context. I think that anyone who wants to gain insight into Germany, its extremes, brilliance, capacities for ecstacy and darkness, could do worse than experience this recording. I feel that I understand the country and its soul better for having heard this material.
The sound quality on the 7th and 9th is something you adapt to. For some reason the Germans taped with a high recording level so that the loud passages distorted. The sound on the 5th is much better. That said, Maggi Payne and M&A have done a superb job of reconstructing the sound from these early tape recordings. I'm very grateful to them for doing this important work.
As an aside, it's interesting to read Furtwangler's response to those advocating a literal approach to interpreting Beethoven in the accompanying notes.