Given the intense interest in reissuing anything Furtwängler in the past three decades, it is almost inconceivable that all his recordings with the Stockholm Philharmonic were only grouped together in a box set in 2019. All of these recordings have been issued before, albeit in a piecemeal manner. Even the concert on 13 November 1948 has not been released commercially in one single package. That 1993 Music and Arts CD (CD793) was almost there when it included the Beethoven 7 and 8, but the Leonore Overture No. 3 was missing. Interestingly, only the rehearsal on the previous day was included.
CDs containing the recordings in this new Weitblick set, with the exception of Beethoven 8, were not commonly reissued previously, and this fact will make this new set appealing to some fans of the conductor.
First of all, let me say that the quality of sound in all these recordings is very much a case of caveat emptor. Strictly speaking, there were no original master tapes to speak of, because all of them were originally recorded on acetate discs. As such, don’t expect miracles in sound even if Weitblick claims that some of the recordings are firsts from Swedish Radio sources, namely Beethoven 7 and 9, Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde excerpts.
This 4-CD set contains a passionately-written essay by Néstor Castiglione. A very fine read I’d say, much better than those by Norman Lebrecht who seemingly can only write on Furtwängler in a denigrating tone one way or another.
The old warhorse re-appears: Stockholm Beethoven 8
This 1948 Beethoven Eighth recording is one of the two recordings, the other being the Second, that allowed EMI to issue a complete Furtwängler Beethoven symphony set after Furtwängler had died before the project to record all Beethoven symphonies with the Wiener Philharmoniker could be finished. It has been issued with different remastering by EMI, and lately by Warner, many times previously. So it is no stranger to music lovers.
In this performance, Furtwängler deftly depicted all the contrasts designed by Beethoven in this symphony while allowing sunshine to stream in the music. The orchestral sonority of the Stockholm Philharmonic was admirable, and did not sound distinctly different from the BPO or even the VPO.
In the second movement (Allegro scherzando), I can exclaim, “What rhythmic beauty!” The repeated staccato woodwind chords and the answering bass-line together painted a soundscape full of ebullience. In the third movement in Tempo di menuetto I can sense a very elegant dance. However, unfortunately there was some untidy playing in the Finale.
EMI, now Warner, has seen many competitors in this recording. Its own version in its latest remastering should be familiar to many of us. It has a compressed dynamic compared to others, with thinner sound too. The Music and Arts CD has added excessive echo that I’m not keen on. The French Furtwängler Society CD obviously employs less noise reduction, with better dynamic compared to EMI’s, but it is lighter in bass. The CD in the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra commemorative set has a sound which is more lively and full-bodied. The newcomer from Weitblick, fortunately, has a definitely better sound and dynamic. I’d say it is even better than the previous champion in the Orchestra’s set.