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David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

It was hearing the music of Beethoven that proved to be the driving force behind Wilhelm Furtwangler’s desire to become a musician. Born in Berlin in 1886, he was initially trained as a pianist, but become the most internationally famous German conductor in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1920’s he was appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, and it was mainly through his many recordings with the BPO that his name was transmitted around the world. His reputation tarnished in the Second World War by his compliance with the Nazi Party, but he was eventually rehabilitated and went on to make a number of well-recorded performances of his Beethoven interpretations. The thought that his expansive approach came in later life is blown away by the snail’s pace opening to the 1933 recording of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, though the concluding part does generate the necessary impact that transfers through to his first recording of the Fifth Symphony from 1926. The sound is very dry and causes rather abrupt musical punctuations, but while the sound is very basic, it is well balanced. That he could also have a waspish turn of speed comes in a virile reading of Weber’s Overture to Der Freischutz. He could have a sense of fun as shown in the two Rossini overtures, the express speed for the close to La gazza ladra displaying the quality of the Berlin violins in 1930. The speed with which recording technique improved is evidenced by the passable sound of the 1935 version of Il barbiere di Siviglia, so clear that you can picture the panic among the inner voices when faced with his express tempos.

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