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Furtwängler's last ever Beethoven 9th is an all-time classic
And it's never sounded remotely as good as this before!
We are fortunate indeed to have a recording of this, Furtwängler's last of many, many performances of this monumental work, which took place just three months before his death on 30th November, 1954. Had he lived but two months longer his first planned engagement of 1955 was to have been the same work, this time with the Vienna Philharmonic. Instead he was to take the stand just five more times, in August and September of 1954, concerts which featured Beethoven's 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th symphonies - his orchestral concerts prior to this featured Beethoven's 3rd and 4th and again the 9th. One can only imagine he felt he still had more to say and more to explore with these works.
The original sound quality of the present recording has proved satisfactory for many over the last 56 years, and it has seen many reissues, and yet it was not without flaws. One had only to listen to the over-dominance of the tympani for over a minute at around 10 minutes into the first movement to appreciate that not all was right with the tonal balance - other flaws were more subtle but just as present.
The recording actually proved much trickier to remaster than I had expected, and it has taken me nearly three months and more than seven incarnations (each of which has been through many 'stages' of development) to realise which I believe to be its full sonic potential. Even right to the very end I felt there was something not quite right - my computer analysis and instruments were telling me everything was fine, but my ears suggested something else - and by trusting the best hearing devices known to man I was able to track down and solve the final piece of the puzzle, a minor equalisation adjustment which finally allowed everything to fall perfectly into place.
The result is one of the most personally satisfying audio remasterings I've ever produced. It has a full extension of both the highest and lowest frequencies. It has lost the over-boominess already mentioned in the tympani and elsewhere. The previously hard upper midrange has been tamed. In short, the orchestra sounds magnificent, and when you reach the final, choral movement, you'll find that the singers do too, with an excellent balance so well captured all those years ago.
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"
Recorded live at Lucerne Festival, Switzerland, 22nd August, 1954
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano
Elsa Cavelti, alto
Ernst Häfliger, tenor
Otto Edelmann, bass
Lucerne Festival Choir
dir. Albert Jenny
conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, August-December 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Furtwängler
Total duration: 76:12
Classical CD Review review
Wilhelm Furtwängler's interpretation of the mighty Ninth has
been preserved on almost a dozen recordings, mostly of live performances.
Pristine Audio's issue is his last,
from the1954 Lucerne Festival, three months before the conductor's
It is perhaps the longest performance on disk (76:11) although Leonard
Bernstein's historic 1989 Berlin performance is of equal length. This
Lucerne performance, essential for many collectors, has been issued
many times on various labels, but all are eclipsed by the sonic excellence
of this new restoration.