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Rob Cowan
Gramophone, 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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

It is oft said that Wilhelm Furtwängler drew more expansive with the passage of  years, but these 1930’s Wagner excerpts show he was never one to hurry. It was simply his instinctive feel for the tempo needed to create musical pictures, his Lohengrin overture setting a scene of serene sadness, while his stately funeral march captures the bleakness of the Siegfried tragedy. He did, of course, have the Berlin Philharmonic in supreme form to provide those silky strings for Tristan und Isolde. The Die Fledermaus overture has the necessary sparkle, and Till Eulenspiegel plays his pranks at leisure until things get rather too hot for him. The playing here is all that could be wished for, and when we talk of the modern-day orchestral virtuosity we should recall these unedited performances. As usual I sit in awe and wonderment when I hear the results achieved by the restoration engineer, Mark Obert-Thorn. Here again he is waving his magic wand.

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