Sunday, 6 November 2016

Wilhelm Furtwängler's 1944 Eroica

A critic recently opined that the recording of Beethoven's Eroica symphony made in late December 1944 in Vienna with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic was the greatest of all Eroica recordings. Late December 1944 with the Red Army rolling inexorably towards Vienna must have concentrated the minds, with Götterdämmerung just round the corner. I have just been re-listening to it in a new transfer (by Pristine Audio) and I have to say that, for once, a critic may be right. Otto Klemperer and Wilhelm Furtwängler were the two great conductors of this symphony; Furtwängler here even outshines Otto, with the funeral march sounding positively contemporary in its savagery and originality.

The CD also has a coruscating performance (Berlin 1943) of Furtwängler conducting Beethoven's Coriolan overture. Those doubtful of old sound can rest assured. Pristine Audio, taking a holiday from fooling around with second-rate American radio broadcasts and recordings, has produced a miraculous sound that could well date from the 1960s. This, surely, is what audio restoration is all about. Stars to everyone concerned. And commiserations to the able and talented conductors of today; what on earth are you to do faced with a 72 year old performances like this one? So three stars to Ludwig van Beethoven, and three stars to Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic (Coriolan) and Vienna Philharmonic (Eroica). Three stars to Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio for the transfers, and three stars to the German recording engineers of 1943 and 1944; if the battle of that time had been between Russian, Allied and German recording engineers (and orchestras), the Germans would have won hands down.

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