By the 1950’s Wilhelm Furtwängler was regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the Austro-German classics, with a particular affinity to the music of Wagner. For a musician of such pre-eminence he did not leave the massive number of studio recordings you would expect, though now we are gaining a greater in-depth recognition through the many ‘live’ recordings being released. The present disc comes mainly from sessions with the Vienna Philharmonic in March 1954, the sound quality not exceptional for that period, though the glowing warmth of the Tannhäuser and Lohengrin excerpts show the rounded tone he was drawing from the orchestra. Prompted by Solti’s electrifying recording of the complete Gotterdammerung, Siegfried’s Funeral Music took on a new dramatic impact, but in Furtwängler’s day it was a sad and sombre moment, while Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey was smooth and warm. He was joined in the final scene by the great Norwegian soprano, Kirsten Flagstad. She was fifty-seven when these 1952 sessions took place and the problems with high notes have been documented. But, by and large, she was still a formidable singer who was well into this character and came from an era when it was fashionable to start below the required note to add ‘feeling’. I suppose the telling point comes from the much superior playing from the Philharmonia and the more open sound of the London studio. A disc that I would not be without just for this last track alone. Excellent transfers.
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