Wilhelm Furtwängler

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

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The story goes that once, when Furtwängler was rehearsing with an Italian orchestra, his unsteady opening downbeat caused one of the musicians to call out sympathetically "Coraggio, maestro!" Whether or not it's apocryphal, the story's totally credible. Just listen to the opening chords of this 1949 recording of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte with Furtwängler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1949 Salzburg Festival. All the strings come in too soon on the first chord. Only the violins come in too soon for the second chord, but they do come in almost a beat too soon. The strings are finally together for the third chord, but the violins go out of tune and stay out of tune for the rest of the introduction. Then, suddenly, somehow, Furtwängler pulls himself together and, presto-change-o in the Allegro everything comes together and all at once the music soars off into the air, a living thing of supreme beauty. And the performance more or less stays that way for the rest of the opera. While some of the soloists are superlative and some are merely adequate, Furtwängler molds them all into a Zauberflöte of unimaginable lightness and unbelievable depths, of ineffable delight and incandescent ecstasy, of immense humanity and profound sublimity. There are other great Zauberflöten in the world -- there are Klemperer's and Böhm's and Beecham's, plus a pair of wonderful 1951 recordings by Furtwängler again at the Salzburg Festival -- but this one is as great as the greatest and anyone who loves the work of the composer will have to hear it. Orfeo's remastered sound is raw but serviceable and honest.

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