Wilhelm Furtwängler

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6

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There are 12 extant recordings of Wilhelm Furtwängler leading Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and seven of him leading the composer's Sixth Symphony, and all versions except for one feature the Berliner Philharmoniker or the Wiener Philharmoniker. His only recording of those two works not with those orchestras was made with the Rome Radio Symphony Orchestra, recorded in Rome on January 10, 1952, appearing on this two-disc Myto set. These are not the great German conductor's best accounts of the two works. Cognoscenti may disagree as to which of his recordings hold that title, and the wisest among them may decline to choose, but they would all likely agree that Furtwängler's performances with the Berlin and the Viennese orchestras are more idiomatic, more characteristic, and much more inspired than his Rome accounts.

Still, for the hardcore Furtwängler fan, these performances make fascinating listening. Away from the two orchestras that knew him best, a slightly different Furtwängler emerges, one who needs to convince the Italian-speaking musicians to play for and with him, to not only follow his famously imprecise beat, but also his frequent tempo changes and individualistic rubatos. Although they sometimes don't, the Romans more often do, granting Furtwängler powerful but soulful playing in the Fifth, and sensitive but colorful playing in the Sixth. In conception, these performances do not substantially differ from his other late-period recorded performances, though with the Roman musicians, his Fifth is slightly more monumental and his Sixth is a soupçon more lyrical. As a filler, the producers have included Furtwängler's well-known September 30, 1947, account of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin as the soloist. It should also be noted that the sound here is clean, but still dim, distant, and gray.

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