Why is it risky to call a special edition “complete”?

In mathematics, to prove a theorem false, often all you need to do is to provide a counterexample. To play devil’s advocate, you can apply the same logic to the recent surge of “Complete Editions” of musicians in classical music.

How about the coming WILHELM FURTWÄNGLER: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon & Decca?

Does this edition include all of what DG or Decca has released on Wilhelm Furtwängler? Oh, I can almost see your devilish smile.

Life of course is not so simple. The answer is not a simple yes or no.

Two CDs in the Vienna Philharmonic 150th Anniversary Edition issued by Deutsche Grammophon in 1991, as shown in the following picture, have contents not included in the coming “Complete” Edition.

For the DG 435324-2, the 1944 Beethoven Leonore III and the 1945 Brahms Symphony No. 2 are included in the coming set on CD15. However the 1954 Beethoven Grosse Fuge is not included. The Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in May 1953 on DG 435325-2 is also not included in the coming “Complete” Edition.

The fact that these 2 recordings are not included may just be due to copyright reasons as they are part of the Archiv der Wiener Philharmoniker. Whatever the reason for their non-inclusion, it is a pity that these 2 very admirable recordings are not included in the coming “Complete” Edition.

Anyway, I’m perfectly happy with a glass half full rather than moaning a glass half empty.

WILHELM FURTWÄNGLER New DGG Edition – Digital download/streaming vs CDs

The “WILHELM FURTWÄNGLER Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon & Decca” 35-disc edition will also be available via streaming and download platforms.

The digital download or streaming format will be available in 7 volumes. At present 4 out of these 7 volumes have already been released.

Many Furtwängler fans must have already got a large part, if not all, of the releases in this Edition, and some of you may not want too many repetitions in their collection. The digital download format may be a good choice to fill the gaps in your collection, which would otherwise not be available in CD format because the CDs in this Edition are apparently not available in separate smaller sets, at least in the near future.

The table below shows the CD numbers in the box set which correspond to the digital volumes, and hopefully it will help some to make their choices.

I guess most will be satisfied with streaming alone for the bonus disc, i.e. CD34, in the box set, which is available in Spotify. This perhaps applies to the Early Polydor Recordings as well. The Wartime Recordings, Post-war Radio Recordings and DGG Recordings have been released by DG previously and are quite easily available even now. Perhaps the most coveted part is the Decca Recordings which have not been widely available in CD format, thus a digital download of Volume 7 may be an economical method to complete one’s collection.

What will be missing in the digital downloads or streaming is the pretty booklet in the box set with rediscovered photos, contact prints, previously unpublished drawings and essays by Rob Cowan and Norman Lebrecht, although some of the photos will be available for viewing on social media.

DG marks the 65th anniversary of Furtwängler’s death with a new edition

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:

  1. All recordings in the set will also be available via streaming and download platforms.
  2. Notes within the set are written by Rob Cowan and Norman Lebrecht (!)
  3. There will be an accompanying video blog series with interviews contributed by Norman Lebrecht.
  4. 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.”
  5. Rediscovered photos, contact prints and previously unpublished drawings of Furtwängler will be revealed in this edition and on social media.
  6. 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.

2019 and 1994 DGG “Complete” box sets preliminarily compared

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 1994 Japanese box set
The new box set

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.

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.