Wilhelm Furtwängler

Furtwängler Conducts Brahms

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As with any disc bearing a performance by the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, one has to check carefully with the present performance of Brahms' First Symphony to see when it was recorded and then check even more carefully to see what other labels have released it before. What we have here is Furtwängler's second complete recording of the work taped on July 13, 1950. The January 23, 1945, recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker is of only the finale, while the August 13, 1947, recording with the Wiener Philharmoniker from the Salzburg Festival is of doubtful authenticity, thereby leaving only the August 27, 1947, recording with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra with its poor sound and scrappy orchestral performance before this one. And prior to this release, there hadn't been many releases of the 1950 recording, and only one had listenable sound: the Music & Arts release coupled with Furtwängler's awful 1948 Swedish recording of the same composer's Ein Deutsches Requiem.

Given this context, this 2009 Idis release of Furtwängler's Concertgebouw performance actually has a reasonable chance of being some listeners' first choice. The remastering may be a bit top heavy, but it is at least as clear as the Music & Arts remastering and has perhaps a tad more presence. As for the performance itself, though it is by no means the best of Furtwängler's recorded performances of Brahms' First Symphony, it is still a strongly imagined, deeply expressive, and profoundly moving performance with heroic outer movements, rapturous central movements, and a triumphant coda almost barbaric in its splendor. The Concertgebouw gladly responds to the German conductor's famously unsteady beat and delivers playing of tremendous power. If it weren't for Furtwängler's later, greater performances of Brahms' First -- the 1951 Hamburg, the 1952 Wiener Philharmoniker, and the 1953 Berliner Philharmoniker -- this disc would be absolutely compulsory listening for everyone who reveres the composer. As it is, it is merely mandatory listening for dedicated Furtwängler fans.

The generous coupling of the same composer's Double Concerto from January 27, 1952, is the second, more famous, and much more soulful performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker featuring principals Willi Boskovsky and Emanuel Brabec as soloists. The sound here, like the sound of the First Symphony, is surprisingly clear and present.

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