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CD Review

Great Artists of the Century

  • Richard Strauss:
  • Don Juan Op. 20
  • Till Eulenspiegel's lustige Streiche Op. 28
  • Tod und Verklärung Op. 24
  • Bedřich Smetana: 'Vltava' – Symphonic Poem #2 from 'My Country'
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
EMI Great Artists of the Century 562790-2 73m ADD Rec: 1950-54
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Wilhelm Furtwängler never ceases to fascinate and in this repertoire he is surely one of the greatest ever interpreters, especially in Richard Strauss. The recordings are also excellent although dating back to over half a century.

Furtwängler keeps 'Vltava' flowing with just the right pulse kept throughout and the VPO respond with energy and vigour especially in the 'St. John's Rapids' part. Although there are some mannerisms in the interpretation, this is an unforgettable example of the great conductor's art and is a treasure to listen to.

'Don Juan' is full of explosive energy and vitality although here, I prefer the composer's own account, magnificently remastered on Dutton Laboratories. 'Till' is also pretty momentous with the VPO providing a glorious sound throughout and again, the throbbing character of the conductor shines through.

The best is however kept for last and Furtwängler's interpretation of 'Tod und Verklärung' is truly homage to his own death a few years later (it was recorded in 1950). There is a palpable sense of hallowed beauty and visionary grandeur in the music and the concluding part is extremely emotional. I was quite bowled over by the whole mastery of the piece, one of the composer's finest, at least in my opinion.

EMI has made lots of truck on their lavish booklets for this series and Richard Osborne's excellently concise notes provide a refreshing biography of Furtwängler. The recordings have come across as very clear and with minimal surface noise. This is essential repertoire for any serious collector of historical performances.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech