2019 is the 65th anniversary of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s death, and Deutsche Grammophon is to mark it with the release of a new 35-disc edition: Wilhelm Furtwängler – Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca. As we all know, this set comprises 34 CDs and a DVD.
When the release date of 27 September is getting nearer,
more information on this edition emerges. Here are some points:
All recordings in the set will also be available via streaming and download
Notes within the set are written by Rob Cowan
and Norman Lebrecht (!)
There will be an accompanying video blog series
with interviews contributed by Norman Lebrecht.
Lebrecht provides an assessment of Furtwängler’s
world view, and concludes with: “There is nothing morally admirable about
Furtwängler the man…… The music is another matter.”
Rediscovered photos, contact prints and
previously unpublished drawings of Furtwängler will be revealed in this edition
and on social media.
There is no mention of any new remastering yet,
but the set does include “a number of rare Japanese remasterings, previously
inaccessible outside Japan”.
Rob Cowan’s article on Furtwängler, Man and Myth, published in Gramophone in February 2005 can be viewed here.
The coming 34-CD+1-DVD “Wilhelm Furtwängler – Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca” box set is apparently modelled on the Japanese Das Vermächtnis von Wilhelm Furtwängler 34-CD box set released back in 1994.
The content is very similar, except that the new box set includes a Don Giovanni DVD, which is still available separately, and now with more information of the contents available, we can have a better understanding of how the new set compares with the earlier one.
The order of the recordings in both sets is very similar, because it is mostly chronological. The chronological order as stated by DG refers only to the grouping of recordings in the sequence of pre-war, wartime and post-war periods, and not to the chronological sequence of the recordings within each time period.
Given that the wartime recordings have been reissued in 2 small Collectors Edition box sets (471 2892-2 and 471 294-2) in 2001 after the initial ground-breaking 10-CD box set (427 773-2) released in 1989, and the DGG Recordings in the DG Originals series, it remains to be seen if there is any new remastering in this large box set.
After Berliner Philharmoniker released a large box set of Furtwängler’s
war-time recordings, and King International reissued Tahra’s releases in small
boxes, Deutsche Grammophon would jump on the bandwagon and release a “Complete”
box-set of his recordings.
“Wilhelm Furtwängler – Complete
Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca”
33CDs + 1 bonus CD + 1 bonus DVD
CD1-CD3: Pre-war Recordings
CD4-CD16: War-time Recordings
CD17-CD23: The Radio Recordings I
CD24-CD26: The DGG Recordings
CD27-CD30: The Radio Recordings II
CD31-CD33: The Decca Recordings
Bonus CD34: Beethoven Sym No. 5; Wilhelm Furtwängler speaks
Bonus DVD: Mozart: Don Giovanni
With a 76-page booklet (English and German) with the essays
“The Fall and Rise of Wilhelm Furtwänger”, “A Childlike
Dionysus” and rare and rediscovered photographic material.
To celebrate the “Gustav Klimt: Vienna – Japan 1900” exhibition in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum from 23 April to 10 July and then in the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art from 23 July to 14 October 2019, Warner Music Japan will issue a local release of Furtwängler’s 1951 Bayreuth Beethoven Ninth recording – again! This recording is said to be used as the background music during the exhibition.
What is so special about this reissue? The following are
claims of its special points which to many are considered gimmicks at best:
The CD jacket and booklet will use Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze painting
2019 new DSD11.2Mhz remastering from the original master tape at Abbey Road Studio
Mastering for UHQCD by Kazuie Sugimoto (杉本一家) at JVC
Let’s hear how the CD sounds when it is released on 24 April.
When Dreamlife released the CD set RIPD003 back in February 2009, it caused much discussion because it was claimed to be a Beethoven 9 recording by Furtwängler on 30 May 1953. It sounds totally different from the recording previously issued by other companies dated 31 May 1953. Thus started heated discussions as to the authenticity of this recording and also the exact dates of the extant releases.
This controversial recording will be reissued in Japan in the
format of UHQCD by a new Japanese label called Epitagraph. In Japan this recording
has been widely acclaimed as the “ultimate” Beethoven Ninth by Furtwängler in
his last years, not least by the Wilhelm Furtwängler Society Japan (日本フルトヴェングラー協会).
The original 2009 Dreamlife release is a neat box set containing a replica of programme notes. It will be a good chance for those who missed out on the Dreamlife CDs to get this particular release, hopefully in good sound as well.
For this video recording of Furtwängler conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni, produced by Paul Czinner, it has been reported that the sound track was recorded in sessions after the 1954 Salzburg Festival performances, and the visual part was done in October that year. Only the overture in which we see Furtwängler conducting was thought to be “authentic” for the occasion stated.
Placing the current DVD alongside the 1956 pamphlet about this video made in Eastman colour makes one nostalgic. We should be grateful for the existence of such an Opern-Film made before Furtwängler died shortly afterwards.
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
Thank you for visiting my website. It is a new adventure on the web to add more versatility to my Facebook blog of the same name.
This new endeavour is largely prompted by the recent release of the 22-SACD box set by the Berliner Philharmoniker, which may well be the most significant Furtwängler CD box set release for a long time.