, February 2010
An admirable and well recorded disc from Berlin in the early 1930s
While I would hesitate to claim that Wilhelm Furtwängler’s pre-war recorded interpretations (1930–36 in this case) are significantly different to his wartime and post-war recordings—once settled on an interpretative template he tended to stick to it—what is different, at least on the commercial records, is a keener attack and generally smoother contours. The Wagner items flow seamlessly, with perfect pacing in the Götterdämmerung Funeral Music (recorded in the same fateful year that saw the birth of the Third Reich) and a fine sense of mounting emotion in the Lobengrin Prelude and Tristan Prelude and Liebestod, though later versions of the Tristan music drew even greater reserves of weight of emotion from Furtwängler. Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel, though not always as well played as you’d expect (check out the horn near the beginning) parades both humour and drama.
But perhaps the most unusual items, “Furtwängler-wise”, are of lighter fare, the Fledermaus Overture, clearly a carefully calculated production but wonderfully dapper and brilliantly played. That same air of calculation doesn’t quite work in the tenth Braluns Hungarian Dance in F which, initially, sounds as if it’s being wound up like an old gramophone (ironically given that at this period Furtwängler hated recording), but o 5 is, in its willful and individual way, superb.
Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers are everything one would expect from an expert refurbishment engineer though the fact that he has such well balanced material to work with obviously helps. So, an admirable programme, but not I would say the “soul” of Furtwängler, for that you need the live recordings, and they would soon be among the prize possessions of German radio.