Saturday, 19 May 2012

Furtwängler, and Mischa Elman

Yesterday was a good Friday for Pristine Audio's new releases, with two of my favourite musicians from the past: Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Mischa Elman.

Furtwängler features in an all-Brahms disc, with the Vienna Philharmonic at a public concert in Vienna in January 1952 with a truly superb performance of Brahms' first symphony and the St Anthony Choral Variations. The first Brahms symphony is not one of my favourites – I find it over long and often a bit noisy – but here it has a tremendous performance, with Furtwängler at his best (as often when it was a live performance) and the Vienna Philharmonic at its best. The German Romantics were prime Furtwängler territory, and in Brahms he is truly in his element. To cap it all, the recording from 60 years ago comes up nearly as good as new. Certainly, the sound has not been bettered before now since January 1952. Well worth €9 !

Then on to Mischa Elman, a violinist for whom I have always had a soft spot. Excellent transfers (by Mark Obert-Thorn) of a Vivaldi violin concerto, the two Beethoven Romances, the Mendelssohn violin concerto, and a 13.5 minute “arrangement” by Elman of the Paganini 24th caprice – with a few extra variations thrown in. Listening to Elman's plaintive violin, one realises that all these works were written primarily to demonstrate the prowess of the performing violinist, a fact so often forgotten by the current fad for historico-authentic performances. Rachel Podger may be historically more correct than Elman and symphony orchestra in a Vivaldi concerto (not difficult). But Elman attracts and holds the attention in a way no “authentic” violin playing with no vibrato, little colour, and bulging long notes, can do. Put to the vote, I am sure Vivaldi, Beethoven and Mendelssohn would have chosen Elman over any “authentic” modern fiddle player. I sat back and enjoyed this CD. The sound is perfectly acceptable for recordings from 1931, 1932 and 1947. We live in a good age for re-discovering old performances and old performance styles.

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