From the archives

An­drew Mcgregor takes in a lav­ish re­lease mark­ing the Ber­lin radio legacy of con­duc­tor Wil­helm Furtwän­gler

BBC Music Magazine - - Reviews -

These glam­orous sets from the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic’s own la­bel are so beau­ti­fully made that they push my ‘want one’ but­ton be­fore

I’ve man­aged to get a disc into the player. But do we need a new set of con­duc­tor Wil­helm

Furtwän­gler’s Ber­lin Radio record­ings 1939-1945?

(Ber­liner Phil­har­moniker BPHR 180181; 22 CDS or SACDS) Vintage mono, a far-from pol­ished or­ches­tral sound; and we’ve heard them all be­fore, haven’t we? Not quite it turns out; there are some sur­prises in store. His­tor­i­cally, this is still a vi­tal col­lec­tion: the wartime Ber­lin Phil­har­monic con­cen­trat­ing on Aus­tro-ger­man reper­toire when mu­sic from en­emy coun­tries was banned. This is mu­sic-mak­ing of sear­ing im­me­di­acy recorded as Ger­many was slowly los­ing the war, the Ber­lin­ers con­stantly un­der the threat of al­lied bomb­ing, not know­ing whether they might be play­ing for the last time. Their home, Ber­lin’s Phil­har­monie, was de­stroyed in an air raid in Jan­uary 1944, and the Beethoven Vi­o­lin Con­certo was Furtwän­gler’s last con­cert in the old hall. Furtwän­gler’s re­la­tion­ship with the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic had be­gun in the 1920s, and you can feel the trust they have in him, the way he coaxes ex­tra­or­di­nary warmth from the strings in Schu­bert’s Great C ma­jor Sym­phony, the ex­hil­a­rat­ing con­trol he ex­erts in Brahms Sym­phonies and Pi­ano Con­cer­tos, his al­most ter­ri­fy­ing grip on Bruck­ner 9 in 1944. If you think Furtwän­gler’s Beethoven might seem old-fash­ioned, for­get it; it’s pow­er­fully com­mu­nica­tive, and we can hear its legacy to­day per­haps in Baren­boim and Rat­tle.

They’ve scoured the archives for the best pos­si­ble copies of these record­ings, in­clud­ing tapes that were taken to the So­viet Union af­ter the fall of Ber­lin. For the first time we have mu­sic from Ravel’s Daph­nis and Chloë, Bruck­ner 5 and 9, Mozart 39, and Strauss’s Sin­fo­nia Do­mes­tica. They’ve worked hard on the sound, restor­ing and re­mas­ter­ing all the record­ings; in­deed, Furtwän­gler’s Ber­lin radio legacy has never sounded as good, been as com­plete, or pre­sented as beau­ti­fully as it is here.

Wartime con­duc­tor: Wil­helm Furtwän­gler circa 1945

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