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  Tahra -
  Furt 2001
  Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Furtwängler
  Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Elsa Cavelti (contralto)
Ernst Haefliger (tenor)
Otto Edelmann (bass)
Choir of the Lucerne Festival (choir master: Albert Jenny)
Philharmonia Orchestra London
Wilhelm Furtwängler (Furtwangler) (conducter)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:
  Recorded 22 August 1954 at the Kunsthaus in Luzerne

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Related titles: 2

Reviews: 2

Site review by ramesh October 25, 2009
Performance:   Sonics:
The historically focussed Tahra label have placed music lovers in their debt by releasing Furtwängler's last concert performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a 24 bit/192 kHz remastering of the original mono tapes. This is one of the greatest recorded performances of any Beethoven symphony, in a conducting style which is completely extinct in the modern era.

An insightful analysis of the contrast between Toscanini's 'metronomic' performance style and Furtwängler's freer style is presented on the DVD, 'The Art of Conducting'. The latter's artistic ethos is best approached from the visual arts and philosophy of the Romantic period, with the opening movement's theme emerging from what sounds like the mists of creation. The listener is left in little doubt that the sublime Adagio, paced much more slowly than is the norm, is the emotional core of the conductor's recreation of the score. Here the strings resonate with tragedy and balm in equal measure, Mahlerian without the angst and excess. Only in the closing few minutes of the finale, with Furtwängler's eccentrically precipitate chariot dash for the end, does the conductor's vision demonstrate truly questionable judgement.

Several performances of Furtwängler's Beethoven 9 exist, dating from 1937 to this final 1954 performance, conducted three months before his death. The 1942 version on the 'Dreamlife' SACD enshrines perhaps the most apocalyptic performance of the first two movements ever recorded by any conductor I have heard. [ A couple of Toscanini performances, such as a Buenos Aires performance available for download from come very close.] The 1942 Berlin Philharmonic version utilised early reel tape, instilling better sound quality than for contemporary shellac transfers. Moreover, the Dreamlife SACD is actually a transfer from a 1960's vintage Melodiya LP, and not from the original tapes.

The conductor's record company was EMI. As Furtwängler died before completing a full studio cycle of the Beethoven symphonies, [ #2 and 9 were missing ], EMI's producer Walter Legge sought to release a concert performance of the Ninth to complete a commercial set. He had at his disposal the 1937 London version in execrable sound, plus the 1954 Lucerne and 1951 Bayreuth Festival performances, though only the latter with EMI's microphones and recording apparatus. Interpretatively, the 1954 Lucerne Festival performance here with the Philharmonia is quite similar to the 1951 Bayreuth performance. Inexplicably, though the 1951 Bayreuth has been available for over half a century, it was only released last year on CD in a remastering from the original concert tapes, from both the Orfeo label and the Japan Furtwängler Society. [ I have this latter release, which was the first from the original source material.] The Philharmonia orchestra was essentially trained by Herbert von Karajan, who instilled an exquisite blend in that ensemble's superb wind players, as well as an élan in articulation which was only matched by Toscanini's contemporary NBC Orchestra. Additionally, the Philharmonia's two other star players, its tympanist and first horn Dennis Brain, arguably outshone their equivalents in any other European orchestra. The chorus in this later performance is smaller, more agile and incisive, and recorded with greater presence. The vocal soloists were equally accomplished in both versions.

This Tahra SACD sounds better than the mid-1990s remastering on CD which Tahra originally released, which was impressive enough to win 'Gramophone' magazine's 1995 historical non-vocal record award. It has better-defined bass response. Additionally, the SACD transfer has dramatically reduced any digital edge, such as in the higher violin registers. The SACD sounds dramatically superior to EMI's doctored original LP and CD releases of the 1951 Bayreuth, and even to the recent 'authentic' 1951 remasterings. Although the sonic rejuvenation and openness of sound pales in comparison to RCA's 1955 studio tapes of Reiner conducting highlights of Strauss's 'Elektra' and 'Salome' on Living Stereo SACD, this Tahra release is still remarkable.

Review by jdaniel November 22, 2008 (9 of 11 found this review helpful)
Hi Resolution SACDs of legendary mono performances, I love it!

It's a 24/192 resolution, not DSD, not that I care particularly.

I"m only able to compare this release to his famous EMI '51 9th live recording. Objectively speaking, this '54 is much better played, not least in the 3rd mov't during which time the horn player, (so bad in the '51), is expressive and dead-on. IMHO the lovely 3rd mov't is much more coherent. In the '54 we are treated to the wonderful Philharmonia winds and horn section--I love the expressive oboe player--and I believe that Dennis Brain is on 1st Horn. The vocal quartet in the 4th mov't--which can sound downright bizarre with wobbly or out of tune singers-- is as heavenly as the names are legendary. The 2nd mov't is unusual in that the first notes sound more like a "sting of anger" rather than a hammer stroke--it's an unusually dark reading. The opening growl of the 4th mov't comes out of nowhere.

As a recording, the sound is incredible for the time, I repeat, for the time: there is just a touch of (blunted) hardness in the strings at points but other than that there is a blessed amount of air around the orchestra players and a wonderful palpability to the brass and winds.

My dream would be to see Tahra release Furtwangler's EMI Tristan on SACD. Just a dream....

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Works: 1  

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"