Recorded Live at the Lucerne Festival, August 22, 1954. New Digital Restoration by Aaron Z. Snyder
Truly, he had one foot in the next world
Derek Lee | St. Paul, MN USA | 04/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In my opinion Furtwangler is the greatest conductor on record, possibly the greatest recording artist. At his best, he touches a plane of spiritual exaltation that is simply unmatched. Here is perhaps the finest demonstration of that fact. After this concert he told his wife that "this time, I had one foot in the next world", and he certainly was not underestimating his achievement. His interpretations of Beethoven's Ninth were always special, as it was a piece that he attached almost religious significance to, but here he achieves a peace, a serene sense of triumph, that I have not heard anywhere else. If by the end you don't feel closer to God, then perhaps classical music is not for you. From a more pragmatic standpoint, Furtwangler brings all the elements of the score together with illuminating detail. This is one of the very few recordings of the Ninth were everything makes sense and falls into place. Added to this, the recorded sound is excellent, about as good as you can expect from mid '50s mono, and the performance is superlative, absolutely the best I have ever heard, from the orchestra, choir and soloists. Perhaps this should not be your first exposure to the Ninth (that honor should go to the great '51 Bayreuth Ninth, which has an almost unbearable sense of joy), but by all means treat yourself and buy this, what is the most profound music you are ever likely to hear."
Amazing musical achievement
P. B. Jespersen | Pristina, Kosovo | 10/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Would like to agree with Derek Lee.
Holding the 9th in the highest esteem, I have been listening to many performances (also live of course) to find the one which I consider the most gratifying. A number of ninths are very good, including the Bayreuth version, which was my previous favourite, but none of them are, in my view, as perfect and wonderful as Furtwänglers 1954 Lucerne version.
If you are looking for the ultimate 9th, look no further. This is simply an amazing musical achievement. Furtwängler comes closer to the soul of Beethoven than any other conductor I have heard (just listen to the 1952 Toscanini version in comparison and you will know what I mean - it is just too mechanical). The tension is built slowly and just right. The energetic parts are electrifying and amazing, what tension and energy! The slow movements are unbelievably beautiful, played with the exactly right emotion. No wonder Furtwängler told his wife he had one leg on the other side.
The Philharmonia Orchestra play so well, I actually thought I was listening to the Berliners for a while! :-)
There is an interesting comparison of different versions of the 9th on the French Furtwängler Society's homepage:
Technically the recording is very acceptable for 1954. Unfortunately, a number of the war recordings are so poor technically that one gets distracted from the music by rumbling and noise. This is not at all the case with the Lucerne recording. A cough here and there that is all. A small price for a musically electrifying performance. I am sure Furtwängler was best live.
Only technical complaint is that the Music and Arts version has got so many tracks on it (twenty something). The Tahra version has only 7. The sound is similar. Nicer to listen to the Tahra version if you put them on your phone or mpeg3 player using Windows Media Player, where you cannot get rid of the irritating 2 seconds interval between the tracks.
Apart from Mozart living 30 years longer, I cannot think of a greater shame in music than Furtwängler not living to the age of Wand. Considering the best recordings in classical music are from about 1955 to 1980. However, being left with this 9th is incredible fortunate.
Anyway, this performance is absolutely wonderful and electrifying. After listening to it, I was left with an immensely gratifying feeling that there was nothing more to say, nothing more to add. Didn't play another CD for a while. So in short, look no further for the ultimate 9th. You won't regret it, never ever. Enjoy the magic of Herrn Beethoven and Hernn Furtwängler.
P.S. Most amazing is perhaps that the creator of this deeply wonderful music never heard a 'tone' of it, except inside his own head. Imagine."
Probably the vest version ever.
T. Avramov | Ceske Budejovice, Czech republic | 04/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Normally, I do not like to say such things, that one version is the best. There are so many people and tastes and opinions, that one cannot generalize. But please, I keep at home more then 70 (seventy!!!) versions of the Ninth and this one is really deepest, most beautiful, most poetic, really probably the closest to the perfection. Chorale is just from other, better, divine world. The only thing are the last notes, which Furtwangler makes always very furious, I would, at least sometimes, prefer the slower rhythm, like Celibidache uses with Munich PO. But, even with this, it is divine. Other great versions? Beside other Furtwanglers (Berlin 42, Vienna 53, Bayreuth 51 etc.), go for Celibidache Munich, Walter is always good, Klemperer too, I like Barenboim, Vienna Abbado, last Böhm in Vienna, Kubelik, Reiner, Cluytens, also Fricsay and still few others....Furtwängler and the Ninth, it is just the category for itself."
I have better understanding of Furtwangler now
Thomas Martin | USA | 07/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have never been a fan of historical recordings, and I've always been very skeptical of critics who rave about a performance when the transfer is dim and scratchy, and it is nearly impossible to discern any subtlities of the performace. I've read so much about Furtwangler over the years, and except for a couple of recordings, the quality of the recording was just too poor to really come away with a clear understanding of his intent. I disagree with people who enthuse about the EMI Bayreuth Ninth. I found the sound boxy, dim, and uninspiring. However, this Music & Arts transfer is speactacular! Although '50s mono, there is little hint of 'boxiness', no shrillness at the top end, and I was able to hear so many details from the performance. I get it now - I understand Furtwangler much better, and this performance and transfer goes to the TOP of my list of Ninths!"
A titanic performance suffused with conviction
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 02/05/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having just enthusiastically reviewed the live 1961 Klemperer recording on Testament, I was prompted to buy this disc when a fellow reviewer commented that I had not included a Furtwängler version in my list of favourites - and how glad I am that I did.
I do not pretend to have sampled many of the ten or so extant recordings of Beethoven's Choral Symphony directed by Furtwängler but a combination of a little research and some good advice from other Amazon reviewers such as the Santa Fe listener led me to this one. First of all, I cannot imagine that any of the others could be in better sound: apart from a slight and inevitable papery quality, this disc is in astonishingly rich and full sound for a 1954 mono recording, made shortly before Furtwängler's death. Indeed, it is so good that I could scarcely believe it was mono. I have no complaint about the twenty-one track listings; that allows you to find "good bits" quickly if you are comparing it with other recordings and the presentation is attractive, with excellent biographical and amateur-user-friendly musicological notes by John Ardoin. The performance itself is a miracle of conviction and dedication: swift yet weighty, poised yet energised; the whole thing hangs together in perfectly balanced harmony under Furtwängler's rapt concentration. None of the soloists is by any means the best I have ever heard but they make a fine team and I was especially impressed by the heft and attack Häfliger brings to that killer tenor role, as I had always thought of him primarily as a lyric voice. In any case, you do not buy this disc for them but for the splendour of the sound made by the Philharmonia Orchestra in their early prime (then newly appointed as Orchestra-in-Residence at the Lucerne Festival, the most prestigious of the continental music festivals at that time) and Furtwängler's masterly pacing.
Apparently this same performance is also available in a good re-mastering on Tahra Records, but given the quality of the restoration engineering here by Aaron Z Snyder and the fact that many complain about the more celebrated 1951 EMI GROC version both on account of its tinny sound and the fact that it is supposedly a reconstruction mainly from rehearsal tapes, everything points to this Music & Arts disc being the one to buy."