Wilhelm Furtwängler – Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca

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 about music

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.

Do we need another CD reissue of Furtwängler’s 1951 Bayreuth Beethoven Ninth?

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:

  1. The CD jacket and booklet will use Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze painting
  2. 2019 new DSD11.2Mhz remastering from the original master tape at Abbey Road Studio
  3. 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.

Update: the cover art has been published.

Beethoven Ninth on 30 May 1953

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.

Don Giovanni

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.

Wiener Staatsoper Live Edition

This is music archaeology of the first half of the 20th century, preserved by Hermann May and presented to us by Koch Schwann. Don’t ask me about the sound. It is the artistic value that matters here.

The series has 24 volumes of double CDs. Furtwängler’s can be found in six volumes: Vols 2, 4, 6, 10, 11 and 20.

Sound sources of the BPWFRR set

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.