Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Ludwig van Beethoven, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra|
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Chorale"
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An earth shattering and terrifying experience
Sator | Sydney, Australia | 07/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If forced to choose just one recording of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, it would definitely be this one with the war time Berliner Philharmoniker under Wilhelm Furtwängler. It should be kept in mind that Furtwängler had been publically criticising the National Socialist regime for some time and even wrote letters to Goebels trying to dissociate musical life from politics. Members of his orchestra testified that when anybody tried to start orchestral practice with the greeting of 'Heil Hitler' as was decreed compulsory by law, Furtwängler would object and insist that they say 'Guten Morgen' instead. At the inaugural concert as newly appointed chief conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, he even refused to start the concert until the Nationalist Socialist flag had been taken down: 'take that rag down' he insisted. All of this infuriated the authorities and eventually he fled into Switzerland when he heard that they were out to assasinate him.
Furtwängler's justification for staying in his homeland - after all he was rightly proud of his tradition in the land of Beethoven and Goethe - was that for him playing truly powerful music was by its very nature the greatest possible protest against tyranny. He was merely echoing the Romantic Idealist musical philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer that so influenced the Romantics. Of course this was laughed at after the war as being merely sentimental Romantic drivel.
Then again is it? Listen to this Beethoven 9th, this ode to joy and ultimately to freedom. Furtwängler is playing for his life - litterally. In the Germany of those days to be the chief conductor in Berlin was a position so close to God that when Furtwängler publically criticised the Nazis, even they felt powerless to remove him instantly. But his greatness as an artist and as a conductor was really the only thread that kept him alive - either by being assassinated or merely shipped to oblivion. Not only that but there were constants threats of further Allied bombings, but the orchestra often just kept playing despite the air raid sirens. They would rather have died than have gone without music.
This state of tension produced by living dangerously, on the brink of imminent death produced performance of an electric intensity that have never had their equal. Listen to the recapitulation in the opening movement and it is utterly terrifying. I seriously rarely listen to it because it is that genuinely frightening to listen to. Then listen to the finale and it has an apocalyptic quality, quite different from the more joyous 9th that was recorded later in Bayreuth after the war, but which seems a total embodiment of the sheer terror of the most cataclysmic period of the 20th century.
Remember that this was a man who enjoyed the personal support after the war of Jewish musicians, many of whose lives he saved by ensuring them safe passage out of Germany with a visa. After his concerts there would be queues of people pleading for their help to guarantee safe passage out of Nazi Germany for themselves, friends and relatives - and he always obliged.
The most moving testimony was one that appeared in a book that collected written obituaries after Furtwängler's death. It was written by a Jewish musician, unknown to Furtwängler. He 'disappeared', arrested by the Gestapo. His friends knew of only one contact that they heard would help - Furtwängler. And help he did and he called the authorities professing that this man was a prominent musician of note and 24 hours later he appeared with an exit visa out of Germany on a ship bound for America. The man bitterly decried the claims that Furtwängler - who had literally saved his life - might be a Nazi: 'How dare they!' he proclaimed - 'this man saved my life'. He thought that leaving Germany would have been the easy option where he could make anti-Nazi propaganda broadcasts like Thomas Mann from the safetly of America. No, instead he was bitterly decrying Nazism right under their noses. In any case had he left, he would not have been there for this man to vouch him safe passage to America.
This recording is first and foremost a shattering musical experience but also a document of the 20th century in its darkest hour, a glimmer of hope, a cry for help of the deepest pathos. This is certainly one of the greatest recordings ever made of anything."
D. Garcia | Los Angeles | 11/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Listening to Beethoven can be a spiritual experience, how ironic then that the country that gave us Beethoven and so much more also gave us the Nazis. My thoughts listening to this, go to wondering if the Nazis in the audience could really hear the music. I hope not. I'm not sure I can hear the music fully. Possibly only Beethoven himself really heard it. There are moments where I hear it. I persue those moments.
In the first and second movements the Timpani are strikingly different than any other version I've heard. In the second they reach a surprising peak of noise that reminded me of the abstractionist quality of the loudest rock music, and it's a long, drawn out, sustained peak of noise. Beethoven, no doubt, was an abstractionist a la Varése, so this version asks us to consider that this music is indeed abstract even if our perceptions have been dulled to that fact by the years and familiarity. That abstraction is one way to hear it, and the rage that has been mentioned here before is also apparent. One wonders how deliberate it was given the circumstances. One hopes it was deliberate or perhaps even an unplanned, spontaneously deliberate reaction among the musicians. One hopes that the Nazis were not privileged to hear or grasp the meaning, or perhaps the Nazis were forced to deny what the intensity meant in order to preserve their twisted delusions of grandeur. Isn't that spontaneity under pressure part of what Beethoven was about? Our ability to preserver, with dignity, under the worst of oppression? It must have been glorious to hear and see it live.
The 3rd movement starts off achingly slow, again almost abstractly slow. It's very interesting to hear the melodies almost isolated in their delicacy and kindness. Beethoven's inner kindness is a quality that I've always marveled at.
The contrasts between the delicate passages and the intense passages made me think that like life, this music of Beethoven can be intense, or scary or beautiful. Beethoven doesn't just hand us sugar.
Like others I'm not sure that this would be the main version I'll listen to in the future but it's certainly an interesting version, because it probably one kind of extreme and it makes you think. I think this version with perhaps 3 or 4 more would be enough."
solid-synch | Beautiful Cleveland, OH | 06/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An incredible performance on so many levels. A brilliant handling of the Berlin Philhamonic by Furtwangler, proving once again that he has a uncanny control over his orchestras and that he "gets" the 9th.But there is an undercurrent to this performance that moves this amazing symphony to another height. The sparse liner notes inform you that this recording was the Berlin Philharmonic in 1942. There is no other information about this performance, but it is safe to assume that it was largely witnessed by the elite of Nazi Germany. During 1942, they controlled most of Europe and were peaking in power. It is in this atmosphere of intese nationalism that music by a German composer, performed by a German orchestra with a brilliant German condutor, combined to create a historical record that can not be overlooked.Not being a musician, it is difficult to tell if there are any musical flaws in it. None are apparent, in fact it sounds unbelievably flawless (I will be interested to hear a musician's perspective on this). What I heard was an engrossing musical performance topped off with the most awe-inspiring 4th movement ever. This part of the performance had me thinking that Beethoven had figured out a way to communicate with God. Historically, Furtwangler's performance is as important as Leni Reifenstahl's cinematic brilliance with films like "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympiad." These works create a duality in beauty, both compelling and terrifying. An amazing thing has happened to nearly everyone I have played this recording for. Once they know the context of the symphony, even little things as annoying as the audience coughing take on an interesting character.The recording is not that great, thus the low price tag. Those flaws might be distracting to audio purists. I would categorize this, sound quality wise, as a great version for the car.Way worth the price."