Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Beethoven, Brahms, Furtwängler, and Toscanini

My listening tastes at the moment have taken me away from most of the symphonic repertoire (with exceptions, of course). Today, however, I took down two old favourites dating back to my teenage years: Beethoven's Pastoral symphony, and Brahms' fourth symphony. The Pastoral for me was always Furtwängler's 1952 recording (not approved of by the critics of that era). I enjoyed it again today in its fine Pristine Audio reincarnation. Furtwängler, for me, fully brings out the spirit of Beethoven's music. Beethoven, we feel, loved the countryside.

The Brahms fourth with which I grew up was that conducted by Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, a performance that was fast and hard-driven, with chords like whiplashes. That recording (on an LP) is long gone from my shelves. For my current listening to the work, it was back to Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic in 1948 (amazingly brought back to life by Pristine, once again). It is astonishing the quality of orchestral sound that German audio engineers could manage back in the 1940s – especially compared with the Americans in the 1950s. Furtwängler in Brahms with his Berliners is far more Germanic than Toscanini with his Americans some five years later. First loves in music usually last a long time, but Toscanini never lasted long with me. Music needs love, as well as fire and fury. Brahms fourth symphony is one of my favourites (and also one of those rare symphonies whose finales to which I really look forward).

Lovers of great performances of the past are greatly indebted to Pristine Audio and to Andrew Rose, and I wish the company a speedy and triumphant recovery from its recent IT catastrophe.

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