Forget the sonics
Michael Capizzi | Illinois, USA | 03/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ordinarily one balances the performance and the recording sound when considering a purchase.. And while no amount of good engineering can save a bad performance, a good performance can overcome inferior engineering. Well, this performance does much more than that. It illuminates the human soul. I hate sentences like that, if only for its excess. But what Furtwangler accomplished here is no less magnificent, dwarfing every other recording of the Ninth that I have ever heard. Actually it is rather difficult for any good conductor to put forth a bad effort wit what many people beleive to be the greatest single piece of music ever wrritten. The music is that good. But Furtwangler brought a level of intensity to the music that has yet to be matched, increasing awareness of the struggle between the finite and the infinite which is at the core of the Ninth. I have never heard a first movement as dazzling asthis. To say it is hairraising would be an understatement. And in the fourth movement,as great as the soloists are, the chorus is even better.
Again, all of this is presented in terrible recorded sound. But with such a recording, one listens with the heart andthe soul, not the ears. I understand that this recording is considered to be legendary. A horribly overused word today, but used deservedly here. This is not just for Furtwangler fans, but for everyone. Very highly reommended."
A great archive discovery, ruined by stinging highs
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 10/26/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I think it will mostly appeal to Furtwangler collectors that a new tape was recently discovered of the re-opening of Bayreuth in July, 1951, an occasion that produced one of the most famous Beethoven Ninths on record. Since its first release in 1955, an EMI commercial recording was the only one available. Now we have two, this one from Bavarian Radio having better microhone placement, a closer chorus, and more inner detail. It also captures the actual concert from beginning to end, while EMI's version is cobbled together from the concert and previous rehearsals.
I'm sorry to report that Archipel, infamous for its harsh sonics, has rendered the tape unlistenable, with ear-stinging high freqeuncies at all but low volume. Clearly a decent remastering is called for, but for the moment we don't have one.
Since this is such an important discovery to Furtwangler collectors, I am attaching Henry Fogel's review from Fanfare magazine in full:
This is one of the more interesting musical detective stories that I've encountered in a long time. This performance, marking the postwar reopening of the Bayreuth Festival, has long been among the most famous of recordings, issued by EMI on LP and CD in many versions (including one Japanese EMI edition with fake applause before and after the music). Along with Furtwängler's final performance of this work from 1954 in Lucerne, it has stood the test of time as one of the great Ninths of the recording age.
Now we learn that what we have known all those years was, in fact, a bit of a pastiche put together by Walter Legge, the head of EMI's classical division. The history is simple: the Bavarian Radio broadcast the concert live, and then locked away the tapes of that live broadcast in their archives. EMI, separately from the Bavarian Radio engineers, recorded the rehearsals and performances live, and that is what EMI issued--without ever acknowledging that any rehearsal segments were edited in. In 2006, a young German cellist named Dietrich von Kaltenborn, who had gotten interested in Furtwängler by playing the cello part of the conductor/composer's Piano Quintet, inquired of the Bavarian Radio about the existence of the original master tapes of the broadcast. When they were located and played, it was discovered that there were some meaningful differences between what EMI had issued and what was on the tapes.
For me, the most significant difference is not so much in the edits, but in the overall recorded sound. There is more clarity, more sonic impact, and a fuller range of orchestral color on the original Bavarian Radio recording than there is on any of EMI's releases. More important is that Legge and his engineers compressed the dynamic range, so that the soft passages on this first-time release of the original recording are notably softer than on EMI. The result of these sonic differences is a recorded performance of greater emotional force than was the case before. The Bavarian Radio tapes also capture the precise timing of the space between movements--and the fact that Furtwängler took the finale almost attacca after the slow movement. Legge and his team lengthened that pause on all of their releases.
In addition to the different perspective created by different microphone placement and the use of dynamic compression, there are musical differences that indicate that EMI's team did choose some fragments of rehearsal (in some cases to correct errors, such as an early violin entrance in the third movement), or perhaps actually impinge upon interpretive decisions of the conductor. We may never know, for instance, whether some of Furtwängler's dramatic pauses were shorted by editorial snipping, or by use of a rehearsal fragment where the pause was perhaps not as long. But the pause between the chords that precede the statement of the big tune in the finale and the pause between the last of those chords and the statement of the tune itself are slightly shorter on EMI's version than they are in the original recording as heard here. Conversely, Legge seems to have added a crescendo to the long-held choral note at "Vor Gott!" Furtwängler's actual performance manages to create greater drama by not exaggerating a crescendo at that moment.
The overall power of this newly issued version is greater than any of its EMI predecessors. I need more time to get used to it, and to compare it with the 1954 Lucerne performance, but I think I am already coming to agree with Dade Thieriot, founder and president of the Furtwängler Society of America, that this is "the best Furtwängler 9th in terms of both performance and sound."