There are many attractive attributes of the new ‘Berliner Philharmoniker: Wilhelm Furtwängler Radio Recordings 1939-1945’ (BPWFRR) set. The wartime recordings selected have generally been regarded as among the most alluring of all extant Furtwängler’s recordings. The packaging is exquisite and the documentation of much historical interest. The more advanced digital format is employed. But above all, it is the promise to use the best sound source of each of these recordings that is so enticing, particularly when most of the original master tapes returned from Russia in 1991 have not been utilized to produce CDs. The lure of these original master tapes, if still in good condition, can be experienced in the example of the Bruckner Symphony No. 5 CD released by Testament and the Wilhelm-Furtwängler-Gesellschaft.
However, promise is one thing. The end result is another. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. It is the sound in these SACDs that really counts. We all know that these recordings have seen numerous CD releases in the past, so there begins the endless comparison game among Furtwängler admirers.
Knowing the sound source used for each recording in the BPWFRR set is important if any comparison with previous CD releases is to be meaningful. If the same sound source is used, then any sonic differences would largely been due to remastering. If the sound source is not the same, then the cause of any sonic difference would be more complicated.
We have to understand, by ‘original sources’, Berliner Philharmoniker may mean any of the following four:
1) ‘Original’ master tapes returned from Russia in 1991, now in the archives of rbb (formerly SFB)
2) Half-speed copy tapes returned from Russia in 1987, now in the archives of rbb
3) Tapes in the archives of DRA
4) Acetates/shellacs in the archives of DRA.