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CD Review

Great Conductors of the 20th Century

EMI 62875

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #3 'Eroica' *
  • Symphony #5
  • Symphony #9, 'Choral'
Erna Berger, Gertrude Pitzinger,
Walther Ludwig, Rudolf Watzke
Berlin Philharmonic Choir
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
* Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
EMI 5628752-2 2CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

EMI's tribute to the great Wilhelm Furtwängler invariably rests on his indissoluble reputation as a great interpreter of Beethoven symphonies. These three recordings date from 1937 to 1953 and the Ninth is particularly impressively interpreted although it is in very bad sound.

The 'Eroica' is magnificent in its scope of breadth and massive momentum generated by the VPO. The acoustics in the Herkulessaal in Munich are excellent with some fine detail emanating from the strings and woodwinds especially in the Finale with its exquisite variations. Furtwängler's greatness is evident in the Funeral March which comes across as a Requiem for himself.

The 1937 recording of the Ninth is magnificent in its power and frission but sadly, the sound is extremely dull and unfocused although this is to be expected from a pre war live recording. The First movement is broad and grand whilst the second is full of angst and rhetorical accents. Furtwängler was always memorable in the dreamy Adagio and here this is a truly sublime account of the piece, albeit in terrible sound. The Finale does also suffer from some over modulation in places but the recording is from a unique period in history and as such, deserves the highest possible recommendation.

However, the set is worth having for this earth shattering Fifth Symphony alone. A live recording from February 1944, it is a true demonstration of spirit and defiance in the face of adversity. Furtwängler directs with almost unbearable tension especially in the transition from the Scherzo to Finale, where the orchestra becomes an instrument of triumph. The recording is quite astonishingly clear for its age and provenance and the sense of occasion is absolutely unique. Another classic set that is a fine memorial to a towering conductor.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech

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