Pristine Classical release: Furtwängler's classic 1943 Berlin Brahms 4 & Haydn Variations
- From: Andrew Rose <andrew@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:14:02 +0200
Furtwängler's legendary 1943 Brahms Fourth and Haydn Variations
An astounding sonic revelation from these new XR remasters
PASC 344 FURTWÄNGLER conducts Brahms
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Andrew Rose
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
BRAHMS Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler conductor
Web page: http://tinyurl.com/PASC344w
"The most desirable of these four full versions of the Fourth is the wartime performance in Berlin; it exudes more heat and song than the others, has fewer ensemble problems than the Berlin performance of 1948, greater life than the Berliners in Wiesbaden the next year, and better sound than the Salzburg version of 1950..."
- John Ardoin, "The Furtwängler Record"
If Wilhelm Furtwängler struggled throughout his career with Brahms' Third Symphony, the same cannot be said of the Fourth, which he can safely be said to have completely and thoroughly mastered. And of his recorded performances of the work, this 1943 Berlin concert performance is widely considered his greatest.
Now you can hear this stunning performance in a sound quality never before encountered, as with stunning realism and atmosphere the years appear to fall away. Partnered with the Haydn Variations of the same concerts this is an essential all-time XR-remastered classic.
Notes On this recording
The two recordings presented here both originated at the same concerts, which took place at the Alte Philharmonie in Berlin on 12 and 15 December 1943. They first appeared on Soviet Melodiya LP pressings in the 1960s, the recordings having disappeared into Russia at the end of the war.
The present transfers were made from an EMI LP issue. Despite the common source, there are some clear sonic differences between the two recordings, with the Haydn Variations having survived in slightly better condition than the Fourth Symphony. The latter, too, was pitched significantly higher in its EMI release than the Variations - a ridiculously unrealisting A4=455Hz compared to a far more believeable 442Hz. The latter tallies up with readings of AC electrical hum present in both recordings, and it is to this pitch that the present issue has been matched.
XR remastering has done much to improve the sound of the originals, bringing a wonderful new sense of life to the orchestra and rounding out the lower end magnificently. Likewise the top end is remarkably extended for a recording of this vintage, though unfortunately the recording equipment of the day was prone to slight overload distortion at the loudest sections, something I've attempted to alleviate as much as is possible.
Elsewhere the sound quality is quite astonishing! I've also done away with a number of coughs and sneezes from a Berlin audience that sounded not in the best of health at the time.
Overview Furtwängler's recordings of Brahms' 4th
Listening to these performances of the Fourth Symphony conducted by Furtwängler, ranging in time from 1943 to 1950, one is struck by the extraordinary consistency of his vision of the piece and his approach to it. It would seem that both were so firmly set in his mind and so circumscribed by his will that there was no room possible for variation or a need to experiment with form and tempo. The massive structuring of the work is like that of the First Symphony-a granitelike monument that is equally an essay in drama and forceful dynamics-and with it Furtwängler releases a power and a sweep that match those he unleashed in the First.
Beginning with those great sighs in the violins, there is a sense of the infinite, as though the music were always there, lost in its song, a sense that Furtwängler has simply joined it at one stage of its lyrical progress. He makes the movement an ever-changing fabric of sound, urged forward through accelerandos, when the fever of the music begins to rage, and held back by equally portentous ritardandos when a significant turn in the music requires underlining.
There is little moderato and a great deal of a feeling of andante in the slow movement. Furtwängler leads the movement to the mighty swell that crowns it at the fortissimo passage just after letter E, and then he allows it to recede again into a deep-throated reseating of its principal theme in the strings alone. The third movement in mood and key echoes Die Meistersinger, and Furtwängler fills it with the sort of explosive jubilation he brought to the opera. Bursting with life and filled with theater, it is an ideal preamble for the power to come in the last-movement passacaglia.
Everything Furtwängler accomplishes in the finale reflects and grows out of Brahms's marking of allegro energico e passionato. It is fast, it has energy, and above all it is streaked with passion. Along with these qualities, there is also a dizzying sense of controlled abandon, much like the sensations felt in his headstrong realization of the variations of Beethoven's Third Symphony. It is an elation that carries us through the sectional character of the movement, binds the variations tightly together, and peaks in a coda that is Dionysian in its frenzy. Within this high-powered expenditure of energy and passion there is an amazing island of repose-the espressivo variation for solo flute, set against the woodwinds and accompanying strings.
The potential for this momentary release of tension before the great final push is, of course, a feature of the movement, but few conductors have seized upon its possibilities to such a concentrated extent, and used them to such high dramatic purpose as Furtwängler has. The most desirable of these four full versions of the Fourth is the wartime performance in Berlin; it exudes more heat and song than the others, has fewer ensemble problems than the Berlin performance of 1948, greater life than the Berliners in Wiesbaden the next year, and better sound than the Salzburg version of 1950, the only available Fourth with the Vienna Philharmonic. The rehearsal from 1948 was filmed in London.
John Ardoin The Furtwängler Record (Amadeus Press, 1994)
MP3 Sample Symphony No. 4, 1st mvt: http://tinyurl.com/PASC344
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