FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: The Complete Symphonies - PABX007

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FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: The Complete Symphonies - PABX007

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Overview

BEETHOVEN Symphonies 1-9
BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto
BEETHOVEN Leonora No. 3 - Overture

Recorded 1942-1954

Erich Röhm, violin
Tilla Briem, soprano
Elisabeth Höngen,
alto
Peter Anders,
tenor
Rudolf Watzke,
bass
Bruno Kittel Choir

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler

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This set contains the following albums:

Click below to expand note:
FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral" (1942) - PASC250

Furtwängler, Berlin 1942: perhaps the greatest Beethoven 9 ever

The infamous, astonishing performance in an outstanding sonic resurrection

 


The history of this recording is well known and takes us deep into one of the darkest eras of human history: Nazi Germany, the performances around the celebration of Hitler's birthday in March 1942, and a conductor who some saw as a collaborator, others an a naive tool of the regime, others still as someone who chose to oppose from within rather than leave Germany like so many other top-ranking musicians. The wider subject is covered in some depth in the further notes which accompany this release, and of course in much greater depth elsewhere.

It is pertinent to mention here, however, that many have come to see Furtwängler's Beethoven 9th Symphony of March 1942 as a kind of protest against Hitler and his henchmen, present for at least one of the performances that week. It has been hailed as one of the greatest and most powerful renditions of this momentous work ever captured by the miracle of recorded sound, as multiple five-star reviews on sites such as Amazon.com testify. Naturally it has seen numerous releases on different labels.

Each previous issue has, no doubt, attempted to deal with the rather poor quality of the original recording in one way or another, so why come back to in for another go? Well partly this has been due to requests received from those desperate for someone to crack the major sonic shortcomings of the recording, in the hope that XR remastering might achieve something where previous efforts have failed, and partly (as is often the case) through sheer curiosity on my part. I had been working on another performance by Furtwángler of the same work, and while I had the various elements of an XR restoration to hand curiosity got the better of me and I experimented with the 1942 Choral Symphony.

The results you'll hear in our lengthy sample on this page, comprising the full first movement. Despite some occasional fuzziness caused by peak distortion (much of which I've been able to tame considerably) during the loudest passages, the transformation has been exceptional, allowing the full power and impact of Furtwängler's vision to be experienced as perhaps never before (unless you had the "luck" to be in the hall at the time). Background hiss and noise has been reduced to near-silence, a number of audience coughs have been removed, and XR remastering has brought a fullness and depth of sound, matched by a new openness and clarity lacking in all previous issues.

Experience now one of the most powerful and charged music performances you'll ever hear - in a whole new sonic light.

Andrew Rose

FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Symphonies 4 and 7 (1943) - PASC267

Furtwängler's superb 1943 Berlin Beethoven Symphonies

Fabulous performances in excellent new XR remasters


Furtwängler's live wartime recordings were made on iron oxide tape by Radio Berlin, which took a relayed feed of four microphones placed in the Alte Philharmonie concert hall and preserved them on 14-inch reels of tape running at 30 inches per second, each tape lasting up to 20 minutes. (Fifty years later the same basic technology, albeit somewhat refined, was still in use by broadcasters around the world - the tape was by now running at 15 inches per second, the reels were 10.5 inches in diameter, most recorded two tracks to accommodate stereo, and they managed 32 minutes per reel, but the system would have been quickly recognisable by any Radio Berlin radio engineer of the 1940s.)

The principle microphone, placed in front of the stage was, like all of the microphones used there, omnidirectional. Whilst probably delivering the best sound quality available at the time, these microphones had the obvious downside of picking up sound equally from all directions, including of course the coughs and other assorted noises emanating from the audience. Removing or reducing audience noise has been one of a number of key priorities here, and special attention was paid to the quiet introduction of the Fourth Symphony, which had been particularly badly afflicted.

Although the tapes, which spent many years in Soviet Russia after the war (during which time a number were lost), had done a remarkably good job of capturing the sound of the orchestra and preserving it the direct sound from them was harsh, and lacked in both bass depth and treble expansion. Re-equalisation during XR remastering has done much to improve this, and to reveal far more sonic detail in the recordings than might previously have been apparent.

Andrew Rose

FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 5 (1943/44) - PASC271

A superb Beethoven Violin Concerto in a total aural makeover

Furtwängler's final Alte Philharmonie concert - plus a powerful Beethoven 5th


These two recordings offer two very different perspectives on technical developments in wartime Germany, as well as the long-term preservation of historic recordings.

The Violin Concerto was recorded during Furtwängler's last ever concert at the Alte Philharmonie in Berlin, just 17 days before the hall was destroyed by an Allied bombing raid. Even prior to the present remastering, it was clear that technically the recording was good, and a quick online search for Erich Röhn, the soloist, reveals a number of people claiming this as their favourite interpretation.

I was delighted to discover, therefore, that the recording as previously heard was to a great extent hiding its light under a bushel, so to speak - there was far more in terms of sonic potential in the recording than might ever have been suspected, and it really does show just how much could be captured on the still very early magnetic tape medium.

Naturally it's not perfect, and I've had to work hard to retain natural high frequencies whilst battling hissy distortion during louder passsages. That said, one could easily be fooled into believing this to be a live broadcast from the 1960s. This is not something that could ever be claimed for the companion on this release, the Symphony No. 5, which shows all signs of having spent at least some point of its life on very frequency-limited discs. There's little or no top end to be extracted, and evidence of swish which simply shouldn't be expected on an allegedly taped recording.

What is deeply puzzling is that a recording of the Fourth Symphony from this same concert (PASC267) offers superb fidelity, almost on a par with that of the Violin Concerto here. I've done what I can to even out the frequency response and make the best of the Fifth, but one should be prepared to 'retune' ones ears after listening to the concerto.

 

Andrew Rose

FURTWÄNGLER conducts Beethoven Symphonies 1 & 2, Leonore No. 3 (1948-54) - PASC355

Furtwängler's Beethoven Symphonies in a fabulous XR-remastered makeover

His only recording of the 2nd is magical - and his last ever recording, of the 1st sublime

In this release, we bring together a recording from Furtwängler's final concerts of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 (the programme was repeated over two nights and the recording dates from the first of the two - the second was his very last appearance on the concert stage), with the only known recording of Furtwängler conducting Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1948. The companion piece to these two symphonies is a studio recording of the third Leonore Overture made during the 1953 recording of Fidelio.

Whilst the studio overture recording presented few difficulties, I'm pleased to report that it has been possible to make considerable improvements to the sound quality, filling out the orchestral texture considerably and bringing the whole performance to life. Likewise his final recording of the First Symphony, which was somewhat dull and flat in its original incarnation. XR remastering has worked wonders in teasing out the full impact of the Berlin Philharmonic at this historic final concert - the sound is bright and full, with real depth. I've deliberately not attempted to remove all traces of tape hiss from this recording so as to preserve as much fine detail as possible in the upper treble.

The only known recording of the Second Symphony was first discovered and issued in 1979, and despite repeated reissues, little has ever been achieved in attempts to improve the dismal sound quality of the original discs. This new XR-remastered transfer aims to change that. Whilst one must still bear in mind the abysmal state of the original, here at last is a full-bodied orchestra, with surprising upper-end extension and a far more even sound, allowing the performance to be better appreciated than ever before. A major effort has been undertaken in stitching together tiny gaps in individual notes and dealing with hundreds of bumps and clunks. Despite the loss in the quietest sections of fine detail, overall it's a truly astonishing transformation of this historic document.

Andrew Rose

FURTWÄNGLER conducts Beethoven Symphonies 6 and 8 (1952/53) - PASC359

Furtwängler's finest recordings of Beethoven's 6th and 8th Symphonies

These XR-remastered issues bring a new sound quality to match the brilliance of the performances


John Ardoin lists seven Furtwängler recordings of Beethoven's Sixth and three recordings of the Eighth Symphony in his discography, and though it appears that a fourth, partial 1932 recording of No. 8 exists, he is most insistent that the present, 1953 Berlin recording easily trumps the rest. Here the full benefits of XR remastering can be heard, with dramatic improvements in sound quality, orchestral tone and texture immediately apparent to the listener used to the previous boxy and constricted acoustic of earlier issues. This issue is also considerably brighter in tone, a result of the careful analysis of remnants of electrical hum in the original recording, pointing to a far sharper tuning than the "standard" orchestral 440Hz - the 453Hz tuning of the orchestra is however not unusual for Furtwängler.

It's no great surprise to find less room for improvement over EMI's "studio" recording of the 6th Symphony, yet this too yeilded far greater tonal colour than the original might lead one to believe, and the XR remastering of this recording does seem to have injected a degree of life into it that Ardoin found lacking when comparing it to contemporary live performances. Once again I found that the original pitching was sharper than concert standard - EMI have it at around 446Hz though my own measurements suggested 451Hz was closer to the orchestra's actual tuning. In both recordings I've been able to minimise the use of additional noise reduction processing to keep as open and glorious a sound as possible.

Andrew Rose


FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Coriolan Overture (1943/44) - PASC488

Furtwängler's unrivalled wartime Beethoven - in sound quality to knock you out

 "The intensity of this reading is searing" - Fanfare


These two wartime recordings, as John Ardoin poined out in his essential guide to the recordings of Wilhelm Furtwängler, really do capture the conductor - and his musicians - at a higher level than perhaps any other time in his career. They sit along other classic concert recordings Furtwängler made during the darkest days of the 20th century as perhaps definitive readings of the music of Beethoven. Naturally therefore both have surfaced on a number of previous issues, yet never with the fidelity and level of realism to be heard in these new XR remasters.

  • Of the two, the Coriolan shows perhaps the rougher edges - the sound is full, clear and superbly dynamic, but things start to fall apart at the uppermost frequencies when the music is at its loudest.

    The Eroica on the other hand is a revelation, and I had to double-check when returning to it for final tracking that I'd not accidentally substituted a much later recording when initially restoring it. But no, it's definitely the 1944 VPO performance, which Ardoin dates across 19th and 20th December, with the unmistakeably strident brass, but also with a fullness, richness and clarity that previous issues have barely hinted at.

    A truly essential Eroica  for all - even if it's already in your collection from a previous release elsewhere. 

  • Andrew Rose

  • Click below to expand track listing:
    FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral" (1942) - PASC250


    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 "Choral" in D minor, Op. 125
      Tilla Briem
      , soprano
      Elisabeth Höngen
      , alto
      Peter Anders
      , tenor
      Rudolf Watzke
      , bass
      Bruno Kittel Choir

      Recorded live in Berlin, 22-24 March, 1942

    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler



    FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Symphonies 4 and 7 (1943) - PASC267


    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 

      Recorded live at Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 30th June, 1943

    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92 

      Recorded live at Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 31st October - 3rd November, 1943


    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler

    XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, January 2011
    Cover artwork based on a photograph of Furtwängler
    Total duration: 74:12

    FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 5 (1943/44) - PASC271


    • BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 

      Erich Röhn, violin
      Recorded live at Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 12th January, 1944

    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

      Recorded live at Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 30th June, 1943


    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler


    XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, January-February 2011
    Cover artwork based on a photograph of Furtwängler


    Total duration: 77:41

    FURTWÄNGLER conducts Beethoven Symphonies 1 & 2, Leonore No. 3 (1948-54) - PASC355


    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21
      Recorded 19 September 1954
      Titania-Palast, Berlin
      Transfer from Japanese JVC RCL-3333
      Pitched to A4=447.43Hz
      Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra


    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36
      Recorded 3 October 1948
      Royal Albert Hall,London
      Transfer from Italian EMI 3C 053-03635 M
      Pitched to A4=446.36Hz

    • BEETHOVEN Leonora No. 3 - Overture, Op. 72b
      Recorded 18 October 1953
      Musikvereinssaal, Vienna
      Transfer from Italian EMI 3C 053-03635 M
      Pitched to A4=446.16Hz

      Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra 


      Wilhelm Furtwängler
       conductor


    XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, September 2012
    Cover artwork based on a photograph of Furtwängler at the Royal Albert Hall, 3 October 1948

    Total duration: 72:20

    FURTWÄNGLER conducts Beethoven Symphonies 6 and 8 (1952/53) - PASC359


    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F, "Pastorale", Op. 68
      Recorded 24-25 September & 1 October 1952
      Großer Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
      Transfer from HMV ALP 1041
      Pitched to A4=451.59Hz
      Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra


    • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93
      live at Titania-Palast, Berlin
      Transfer from Cetra FE 4
      Pitched to A4=453.16Hz

      Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 


      Wilhelm Furtwängler conductor


    XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, October 2012
    Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Furtwängler

    Total duration: 70:12

    FURTWÄNGLER Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Coriolan Overture (1943/44) - PASC488


    • BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

      Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra


    • BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, "Erioca", Op. 55

      Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

      Coriolan Overture: Recorded 27-30 June 1943, Alte Philharmonie, Berlin
      Symphony No. 3: Recorded 19-20 December 1944,  Musikvereinsaal, Vienna



    Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor


    Fanfare Review

    This is a must-have for Furtwängler devotees. Emphatically recommended

    REVIEW OF SYMPHONY NO. 3 'EROICA'

    Both of these fabled performances have enjoyed many releases before, but what Andrew Rose has accomplished here is something of a sonic miracle. In all other hands these recordings were clotted, constricted, and compressed, and one had to employ some degree of imagination to go beyond the compromised audio signal for what were obviously superlative interpretations. Now, without any discovery of a superior source but simply application of his signature XR sound reprocessing technology, Rose has lifted the veil, and both of these performances have been brought up to a level of many radio broadcasts from a decade later. Fair warning: The sound of both performances is quite reverberant; those who prefer a relatively dry acoustic will be repelled and consider the results unnatural. For my part, having heard previous remasterings, I find that Rose adds great presence and depth without falsifying the original sonic profiles; no details are obscured, and many that previously were indiscernible or indistinct are now manifest and clear.

    Furtwängler’s reading of the Coriolan Overture is shattering and cataclysmic, as over the top emotionally as his fabled but controversial 1942 performance of the Ninth Symphony. There is simply no other reading like it. For me, this account is definitive for capturing the truly apocalyptic dimension of the Roman general’s tragic fall (though my reference point is of course Shakespeare, not the virtually forgotten play of Heinrich Joseph von Collin for which Beethoven wrote his overture). Compared to the Music & Arts remastering that colleague Henry Fogel reviewed in 18:3, the sound here is far more natural—the frequency and dynamic ranges are opened up, and an annoying rippling sound in the background has been totally removed.

    For the “Eroica,” the point of comparison will be the remastering of this symphony in the 18-CD set of Furtwängler’s Vienna Philharmonic performances. Fogel has reviewed multiple releases of this performance; see for example issues 13:2 (Rodolphe), 20:4 (Music & Arts), 23:2 (Music & Arts), and 37:3 (the Orfeo set) for his descriptions of both the performance itself and the comparative quality of the various remasterings. I agree with him that the Orfeo (I own both that and the M& A release) was the best to date. The Orfeo is very good, and I could happily continue to live with it; but, for my money, the new Pristine version gives the orchestra burnished warmth and glow of sound that the comparatively dry Orfeo remastering does not. I also agreed with Henry that, until now, the desert-island choice among Furtwängler’s 11 published performances of the “Eroica” was the Berlin Philharmonic broadcast on 12/8/1952, issued in superior sound in a 12-CD set by Audite; see his reviews of prior releases in 19:2 (Music & Arts) and 21:3 (Tahra). But with the improved sonics in this 1944 performance, it now bids fair to replace that 1952 outing as the Furtwängler interpretation of choice. Like the Coriolan, it is a performance of extremes: monumental in tempos and scale; white-hot in intensity; fierce, brooding, and desperate in struggle, with forced cheer in its sunnier passages. No other conductor so perfectly mirrored his environment, and the anguish of confronting totalitarian brutality and the horrors of war is palpably in evidence.

    In short, this is a must-have for Furtwängler devotees in particular, and collectors of historical performances in general—and anyone who isn’t dead-set on having only high-fidelity digital or analog stereo recordings in a collection should acquire it as well. Emphatically recommended, and a major candidate for the 2017 Want List.


    James A. Altena

    This article originally appeared in Issue 40:4 (Mar/Apr 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.