Wilhelm Furtwängler

Beethoven: Symphonie Nr. 9

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Wilhelm Furtwängler was beyond all argument the greatest Beethoven conductor of the twentieth century and his recordings of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 are the greatest recordings ever made. Furtwängler's 1937 London recording is fire and light, his 1942 Berlin recording is tragic and ecstatic, his 1951 Bayreuth recording is celebratory and luminous, and his 1954 Lucerne recording is valedictory and numinous. And those are just the four best of Furtwängler's nine Ninths. Even in this June 1953 Vienna recording, a recording made when Furtwängler was already an ill and tired old man, is still a very, very great Ninth. Part of the reason is that the Vienna Philharmonic clearly loves and idolizes Furtwängler and the musicians give everything they've got to him. Part of the reason is that the soloists clearly love and fear Furtwängler and, whether they want to or not, they give everything they've got and then some to him. But most of it is that, even weakened, Furtwängler was able to communicate to the performers his own sublime comprehension of the Ninth, his own transcendent understanding of the greatest symphony ever composed. Even when he falters at the start of the great final hymn to God, Furtwängler's unshakeable faith in the music carries him beyond the starry firmament to the gates of paradise. And when Furtwängler rides the crests and swells of the climatic choral orchestral double fugue, the gates open and the radiant light of eternity shines through the music. This may not be the greatest of Furtwängler's Ninths, but it is still a very, very great Ninth. Deutsche Grammophon's sound lets the music shine through. What more could listeners want?

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