Two fabulous live Mozart recordings from Furtwängler
The legendary 1951 Salzburg Magic Flute and his 1944 Berlin Symphony 39 sonically transformed!
Die Zauberflöte That we have a recording of this superlative live performance at all is to an extent a matter of luck and good fortune. The original broadcast by Austrian Radio was apparently recorded, but the tapes were later destroyed. Thus it has been reconstructed from off-air recordings, and as a result there are a number of additional hurdles to be jumped when restoring such material. I have worked here from a secondary source. On the whole this has been very successful - I've been able to rescue some fine sound quality, particularly in the musical sections. Some of the speech sections, however, have suffered from very heavy-handed treatment before me, and it shows.
Nevertheless, the overall impression is excellent. I've managed to greatly improve the general sound quality through 32-bit XR remastering , as well as deal with a number of wayward pitch issues which saw significant drifts up and down across the opera. A careful analysis of the recording's residual electrical mains hum suggests an original tuning of somewhere around A=445, and it is to this pitch that I've tuned the final master.
Symphony No. 39 This live recording was one of a number recorded during the Second World War for broadcast in Germany which ended up spending a number of years in the Soviet Union prior to a rash of reissues on different labels in recent years. The sound quality of the original was typically brash and harsh, making it quite a hard listen (one reviewer of a previous issue referred to it as "dismal").
Pristine's 32-bit XR remastering has made a huge difference to this, and has really brought out the full and clear sound of Furtwängler's Berlin Philharmonic in a way previously unheard in this particular performance. It is one of those transformations which is both stunning and - unfortunately - also revealing of some of the insurmoutable faults of the original. There is inescapable peak distortion in the louder sections, which also suggest a degree of compression in the original recording, for example. It also feels odd to hear a Mozart symphony in the hands of such powerful forces as Furtwängler musters here. As with Die Zauberflöte there was clear evidence in the recording to suggest the orchestra was tuned to a pitch of A=445Hz.
Broadcast recorded at the Salzburg Festival, 6 August 1951
Josef Greindl Sarastro
Anton Dermota Tamino
Paul Schöffler Sprecher
Fred Liewehr Erster Priester
Franz Hobling Zweiter Priester
Wilma Lipp Königin Der Nacht
Irmgard Seefried Pamina
Christel Goltz Erste Dame
Margherita Kenney Zweite Dame
Sieglinde Wagner Dritte Dame
Erich Kunz Papageno
Edith Oravez Papagena
Peter Klein Monostatos
Hannelore Steffek Erster Knabe
Luise Leitner Zweiter Knabe
Friedl Meusburger Dritter Knabe
Hans Beirer Erster Geharnischter
Franz Bierbach Zweiter Geharnischter
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler conductor
Broadcast performance recorded at the State Opera House, Berlin, 8 February 1944
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler conductor
Broadcast performances, Salzburg 1951, Berlin 1944
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, March 2012
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Furtwängler and The arrival of the Queen of the Night - stage set by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) for an 1815 production. Gouache, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Die Zauberflöte Recorded Salzburg, 6 August 1951. Total duration: 2hr 51:54
Symphony No. 39 Recorded Berlin, 8 February 1944. Total duration: 27:59
"This is an antidote, perhaps too strong a one, to the swift, period-instrument versions to which we have been growing accustomed. Furtwängler's reading is deliberate, spiritually inclined, romantic in the extreme with long rallentandos at cadential points, stretching his singers to their limits yet, paradoxically, never becoming heavy because of the translucency of the playing. Whether his approach is 'right' or 'wrong' seems irrelevant in the light, and that is the right word, of the conductor's deep empathy with the depth and sincerity of the score's serious side— listen to the sense of conviction in the Priests' chorus. His reading also leaves room for the orchestra, intricately rehearsed, to project the details in the score, as for instance, the pizzicato underlying the announcement of the three Boys, or the rnarcato in the upward string figure accompanying the second half of "In diesen heil'gen Hallen". And would one really ask for a faster tempo for "Bei Mannern" when Furtwängler's allows his Pamina and Papageno to sing it with such breadth and warmth?
And what a Pamina and Papageno we have here. Seefried and Kunz took those roles in the roughly contemporaneous EMI recording (November 1950) under Karajan, but there they were in a studio environment and not permitted any dialogue. Here, in the context of a live performance at the Salzburg Festival, their interpretations are that much more involving. Kunz, in particular, benefits; his is an endearing, light, smiling, unforced account of the birdcatcher's words (delivered in an echt Viennese accent) and music. It is one of the most persuasive performances of Papageno on disc. Seefried's appeal in her role is well-known, and she is here at her most glowing and fervent, even managing the conductor's very slow speed for her G minor aria. This being virtually the Vienna cast of the day, Dermota is again her Tamino, so smooth and fluent, yet characterful in his traversal of the part, observing all the Mozart verities, even when sorely pressed by his conductor to maintain his line. What Innigkeit he brings to the scene with Pamina before the trials!
Lipp's Queen of Night is not quite as fluent as for Karajan in the studio, with moments of variable pitch in her second aria. Greindl, Salzburg's Sarastro over many years, also has his intonation problems, but presents a noble, grave portrait, very much in keeping with, and trained to, his conductor's ideas. Klein's Monostatos is suitably vicious. We are consoled for a somewhat squally trio of Ladies by the ethereal purity and beauty of the Boys, led by the young Steffek.
The sound is on a par with the Furtwängler/ EMI Fidelio (12/93) of the previous year, which means occasional distortion in the soprano voices, a few stage noises and a deal of applause at the end of numbers. However, considering this radio tape is not the original (which was destroyed) but one privately made and in the collection of the conductor's widow, the sound is truly remarkable. Even in those early days, Austrian Radio achieved an excellent balance between stage and pit. As with Fidelio, we are once more present at a historic occasion, and share a tradition virtually lost today. It won't be anyone's first choice, yet I would put aside many more recent recordings in favour of this one. I even prefer it to the classic 1937-8 Beecham and 1964 Klemperer versions, set in the same mould, simply because it is live and includes dialogue, without which any Zauberflöte is, for me, incomplete."
Alan Blyth, Gramophone January 1996 (EMI CD issue)