Saturday, 2 June 2012

Menuhin and Furtwängler

I bought Menuhin and Furtwängler in the Brahms violin concerto (Lucerne, 1949) on LP some decades ago and threw it away because of the disagreeable “boppy” sound. I then bought it again later on CD, and threw that away, too, since the “bopples” remained. I bought the recording again yesterday (Pristine Audio) and was highly relieved to note that Andrew Rose had managed to massage out the more annoying background (due, apparently, to EMI's early attempts at using a tape recorder).

In the old days, artists such as Cortot, Fisher, Szigeti, Busch or Schnabel were allowed to be great musicians without necessarily being tip-top technicians. For the vioin world, Heifetz changed that, and violinists increasingly were expected to be razor-sharp and mechanically perfect. In this 1949 Brahms concerto, we have an excellent concerto, a supreme conductor in his element; and a soloist who is intensely musical (listen to the adagio) and technically perfectly adequate. No one is going to buy this recording to listen to great violin playing. But it should be bought to listen to how two great musicans – Furtwängler and Menuhin – play this concerto as we will never hear it played today. What struck me particularly was how, with Furtwängler at the helm, the orchestra is an entirely equal protagonist in the work (the same was true when Furtwängler conducted Erich Röhn in the Beethoven concerto). The sound is still not great, and Menuhin is somewhat shrunk into the orchestra. But it's a great performance; you can't have it all.

No comments: