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FURTWÄNGLER conducts Richard Strauss - PASC407

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FURTWÄNGLER conducts Richard Strauss - PASC407-CD
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Quick Overview

Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra
Kirsten Flagstad, soprano

Studio and live recordings · 1950/54

Producer and XR Remastering: Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Furtwängler

R. Strauss Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24
R. Strauss Don Juan, Op. 20
R. Strauss Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28
R. Strauss Vier letzte Lieder, Op. post.

Total duration: 79:57 
©2014 Pristine Audio


Wilhelm Furtwängler's brilliant interpretations of Richard Strauss

"Rarely can a first performance have served any music and its composer so well" - Fanfare


  • R. STRAUSS Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), Op. 24  [notes/score]
    Recorded 21, 23, 24 January 1950
    Recording producer: Walter Legge
    Recording Engineer: Anthony Griffith
    First issued as HMV 78s DB.21169-71 

  • R. STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20 [notes/score]
    Recorded 2 March,1954
  • R. STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks), Op. 28 [notes/score]
    Recorded 3 March,1954

    Recording producer: Lawrance Collingwood
    Recording Engineer: Francis Dillnutt
    Recorded at the Musikvereinssaal, Vienna
    First issued as HMV LP ALP.1208  

    Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra 

    Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor 

  • R. STRAUSS Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), Op. post. [notes/score]
    Recorded 22 May, 1950
    World Première, Royal Albert Hall, London

    Kirsten Flagstad, soprano
    Philharmonia Orchestra

    Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor 




Historic Review: Four Last Songs, 1993 CD issue

Then there's the Strauss (or “Stauss,“ as the printed material consistently has it!). Rarely can a first performance have served any music and its composer so well. Flagstad is totally immersed in the words and the notes (though she does opt for a G instead of the top Bb at ' 'wie ein Wunder vor mir' ' in the first song). Even through the murky sound, the rhythmic and textural clarity secured by Furtwängler in the Philharmonia's playing is undeniable; note, for example, the harmonic progression at the words “alle meine Sinne nun“ in “Beim Schlafengehen.“ The entire performance glows from beginning to end, as it should. (But note that the last forty-five seconds, which were not preserved, have been tacked on from another, uncredited performance.) Despite Eklipse's claim that none of this material has been issued on CD until now, the Strauss has previously shown up—in even less good, treble-boosted sound—as filler in a Melodram box of excerpts from Furtwängler's 1948 Salzburg Fidelio. To my mind, no one who knows the Four Last Songs should be without this world premiere rendition, but I'm also grateful to have received a review copy at no cost. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Review by Marc Mandel, Fanfare Magazine, Sept/Oct 1993 (excerpt)



Historic Review: Vienna Philharmonic recordings, 1994 CD issue

The Strauss performances are all very fine. Tod und Verklärung has great purity and power, and concentration of spirit. The recording (Vienna’s Musikvereinsaal, January 1950) buckles under the weight of the final climax but the performance itself has great integrity; structural and expressive. How pure the sound of the solo violin is in the evocation of childhood, how deadly the rattie of the basses at the onset of the first crisis, how implacable the annunciations of the whole orchestra in the ‘will to live’ music.

Don Juan, spaciously sounded in the meditative sections, also has great inner fire. What Toscanini (RCA, 11/92) releases with the bright leap of a spark, Furtwangler fires with brands and flaming torches. The latter’s recording was made in 1954, well into the LPera. The sound is fuller-bodied than that of the 1950 Tod und Verklärung, aided by some rather crude spotlighting of the solo instruments. (The glockenspiel takes on solo status.) But it is not an easy sound, nor is the VPO’s playing 100 percent assured.

Then comes Till Eulenspiegel, dispatched by Furtwangler and the orchestra as a coda to the Don Juan sessions, and sounding like a million dollars. Here we have everything—fabulously characterful playing, the orchestra fired up and brimming with confidence, the microphones receiving the gift with hitherto unexampled grace. It is not, of course, a jokey performance tricked out with interpretative ‘effects’. No, its genius— and what genius there is here!—is all to do with fundamental skills: the ability to realize different weights and gradations of sound and shifting dynamic angles. II is about bowing and breathing and the baton’s mimetic charge, it is also about being able to do all this on the spur of the moment, about being a great opera orchestra and possibly, too, about being Viennese.

Above all, it is hugely enjoyable, uproariously funny. Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that Ihe National Health Service should make the performance available on prescription as a matter of urgency. It would banish the nation’s woes within a week.

Review by R.O., Gramophone, Octover 1994 (excerpt)


Producer's Note

The decision to tackle Flagstad and Furtwängler's legendary première recording of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs in the year of the composer's 150th birthday was taken following the suggestion of a correspondent who e-mailed me last summer with the idea. That it's taken more than nine months to bring to fruition has much to say for the difficulties involved in trying to do anything to improve the frankly abysmal quality of the original recording, originally captured on acetate discs that have seen far too many heavy needles over the years.

The flaws inherent in the original recordings are myriad: Surface noise is a constant intrusion; Thumps, bumps, clicks and scratches abound; The frequency range is limited, the frequency response deeply unrepresentative; Swish is endless to the point of being almost overwhelming; Distortion rears its head too often. Restoration and remastering technology can help enormously - XR remastering brings out much of the orchestral richness and texture and lifts a veil from Kirsten Flagstad's voice, whilst pitch correction helps with wayward wow and flutter. Much of the swish has been smoothed out, and noise reduction has done just that. The recording remains pretty compromised, as I suspect it always will, but once the ears have adjusted to the shortcomings of the medium there's much to be enjoyed and cherished.

The other three recordings were made in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna for commercial releases. The first, Tod und Verklärung, was originally destined for 78rpm issue in 1950, and although it would have been taped, is of noticeably lower quality than the later, 1954 recordings. Hiss levels were higher and the upper frequencies less well defined - though of course all three recordings are much, much better from a technical point of view than the Four Last Songs. As with the Songs, the recordings all responded very well to XR remastering, which has once more brought new life and light to the orchestral sound.

Andrew Rose




CD covers to print:
(NB. Disable Page Scaling before printing)

PASC407 cover


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