BIS is about to achieve a feat in Furtwängler’s discography

Now that its track list and timings are available, I have the impression that the coming BIS hybrid SACD is not a mere classical music recording release, but an important historical sound document.

I also have the feeling that its catalogue number, BIS-9060, will be remembered as fondly and widely as HMV ALP 1286/7, Tahra FURT-1001 or Tahra FURT-1003 in the Furtwängler fan circle, because it appears to be among one of those landmark releases.

BIS Bayreuth SACD

The cover art of the BIS 1951 Bayreuth Beethoven Ninth has been released.

It is a simple and pleasant design that utilises Emil Orlik’s 1928 portrait of Furtwängler now kept in the British Museum. Furtwängler was 42 years old at that time.

Portrait of the conductor; in profile to left. 1928 Etching and drypoint
© The Trustees of the British Museum

As mentioned in my previous post, the duration of this SACD will be 85 minutes because it is meant to represent the whole broadcast recording, including the pre-concert announcement, the concert with the intervals between movements and the very enthusiastic applause.

As such, one might have gathered from the internet that many Furtwängler aficionados have already braced themselves for a thorough comparison with the Orfeo release based on the Bavarian Radio archived recording 🙂

The SACD (BISSA9060) is expected to be available in mid-December.

1951 Bayreuth Beethoven 9 unearthed from Swedish Radio archive

In the discography compiled by Renė Trémine published by Tahra in 1997, it is noted on page 27 that the tapes of the recording of the famous 29 July 1951 Bayreuth Beethoven 9 were archived in Bavarian Radio, Munich and Swedish Radio (archive LB 14784).

It has been suspected and argued that the first release of the recording of this concert by EMI was not the actual concert itself, but that of an edited version of the rehearsals and parts of the concert. The first commercial release of the actual concert recording based on the tapes archived in Bavarian Radio came from Orfeo in 2007. It sort of opened a Pandora box of the legitimacy of the previous releases in representing this important concert.

Now the sound source archived in the Swedish Radio has been unearthed by the Chairman of BIS Records, Robert von Bahr, after a long search and will be released in December in SACD format. King Records in Japan will be responsible for a local release in Japan around the same time. The sound quality was claimed to be “not bad”. It has been seen as a major achievement by King Records and advertised as such.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed to have another good version of this recording in this 135th birth year of Furtwängler.

Furtwängler CD box sets (2)

It is an understatement to say that Furtwängler has been popular among classical music lovers in Japan. In fact, judging from the sheer number of reissues of his recordings coming up as local releases in Japan, one can safely reckon that Furtwängler is a star there.

With the recent 55-CD box set released by Warner, “The Complete Wilhelm Furtwängler on Record”, which proves to be very attractive, it is interesting to go back in history to see what Japanese releases of Furtwängler box sets look like.

As I mentioned above, there has been an enormous amount of CD reissues in Japan, but they are mainly single or double discs, and the number of large box sets containing 10 or more CDs is disproportionately small. I have only 5 in my collection, and I’m quite sure there might be some others that I have missed.

Let’s look at 3 of them first.

Released in 1997, this box set from DG Japan includes 10 CDs and a bonus CD, utilising the then popular DG Originals concept. No similar box set was released internationally.

Toshiba EMI responded in 2000 with an 18-CD box set in a slim case covered in moleskin, and each CD is put in a cardboard jacket using the original cover art of the respective LPs issued in the past. Quite a nice touch.

Tahra is a classical label that no classical music lovers would not know. In 2008, Tower Records Japan gathered all Furtwängler releases by Tahra in one simple Memorial Edition of 40 CDs. All CDs are placed inside a transparent plastic jacket with no cover art. I believe it was meant to be a no-frills Tahra Furtwängler compendium.

I’ll leave the other 2 larger sets for Part 3 ☺️

1st October 1950

Left in a private archive for 71 years, the Schubert Unfinished recording at long last saw the light of the day.

The restored sound is very acceptable to my historical-inclined (aka senile) ears.

The performance is rather full of angst and anguish. I don’t know why, but it made me think of Sinopoli’s first recording of this piece.

CD 54 from the new Warner box set.
From Olsen’s discography, 1st and 2nd editions.
From Olsen’s 1st edition, when even the Beethoven 5 has not been issued by Danacord.

It is interesting to note that the new Warner ‘Complete’ box set is now in an enviable position to include all two extant Furtwängler’s Wiener Philharmoniker Schubert Unfinished recordings. To be exact there is another wartime recording but it is only a fragment of the first movement.

Furtwängler CD box sets (1)

Most of the currently available high-quality Furtwängler box sets containing 8 CDs or more have constraints as far as his discography is concerned. They are in a sense largely complementary to each other. There is yet a definitive box set, and even if such a set does exist, it will most likely be prohibitive both in size and in price.

Surprise at Easter

The 13-CD box set issued by Audite “Edition Wilhelm Furtwängler – The complete RIAS recordings” has been considered “essential” in many Furtwängler aficionados’ collection, not least because of the good sound quality with the use of master tapes in the RIAS archive as sound source.

Audite has subsequently released another Furtwängler item of the Schumann Manfred Overture (1953) and Symphony No. 4 together with Beethoven’s Eroica. This 2-CD set has a high-resolution audio brother in the form of SACD, and we often heard the praise heaped on this release.

I guess I am not the only one who has been waiting for the release of SACD equivalent of the 13-CD box set, but such a big SACD box set will inevitably be expensive, and perhaps because of marketing reasons, Audite has yet to release one.

A recent promotion by Audite prompted me to revisit her website and lo and behold, I found a “marginally” high-res audio download option of this 13-CD set. I said marginal because the FLAC is in 24bit/48kHz only, but theoretically it should be an improvement on the 16bit/44.1kHz CD quality. The price is very reasonable too. A mere 20.43 Euro and you can get them all. (

It is a no-brainer for me. The sound is discernibly better than that of the CDs. Compared to the CDs, it seems that a layer of dust has been cleared from the overall sound picture. The most important thing is that the sound has not lost its body and richness, which regrettably is the problem in many new so-called high-res remastering these days. I am happy, to say the least.

450 Years Staatskapelle Berlin Great Recordings

A 15-CD box set will be released by Deutsche Grammophon in April celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Staatskapelle Berlin.

It is an attractive set that includes recordings from famous conductors associated with this great orchestra. Each CD is devoted to a single conductor.

Furtwängler is obviously one of the conductors included. He occupies CD 6 with Act 2 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde recorded on 3 October 1947. This recording has been released by the French Furtwängler Society but the latter includes Act 3 as well.

I will be eagerly awaiting.

Franz Schmidt

More than 20 years ago, the book and the recordings in the following picture began my passion for Franz Schmidt’s music ever since.

In the 1920-1921 season of the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester, Franz Schmidt played the piano as soloist in 2 concerts conducted by Furtwängler. In the 1930s, Furtwängler programmed Schmidt’s Variations on a Hussar’s Song both in Vienna and Berlin. He also conducted Schmidt’s Interlude and Carnival Music of Notre Dame in Vienna.

The Große Fuge, Op. 133

I had a busy day at work on Beethoven’s day so little time was left to enjoy his music in solitude. There are too many good recordings that are worth playing.

To choose a quintessential example of the art of both Beethoven the great composer and Furtwängler the great conductor, I’ve selected the Große Fuge, op. 133.

The original version of the music was represented by Vegh Quartet’s recording in the 1970s.

Furtwängler has two extant recordings of its transcription, by the Berlin Philharmonic in 1952 and Vienna Philharmonic in 1954 respectively. Both are insightful and both afford one to be enthralled by his interpretation.

It was a wonderful night.