One of the highlights in the new Wilhelm Furtwängler – Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca box set is its excellent collection of Bruckner recordings within Furtwängler’s discography.
There are extant recordings of the last six Bruckner symphonies conducted by Furtwängler.
For the Fourth Symphony, there exists a 1941 performance but it is not complete and is in very poor sound. The other two post-war recordings, both in 1951 and by the VPO, are included within this new set. The earlier recording in Stuttgart was released by DG while that performed one week later was by Decca.
There exist two Bruckner 5’s. The magnificent wartime concert in 1942 is included here. The other one was in Salzburg in 1951, previously released by EMI.
The only extant Sixth is that of a wartime concert in 1943 but unfortunately the first movement is not available, whether it was not recorded or has been lost is not clear. It is not included in this new DG set.
Five recordings exist for Bruckner 7. The wartime one in 1941 suffers the same fate as the wartime Fourth, incomplete and in poor sound. There is a studio recording in 1942 of only the Adagio by Telefunken. Then there are three post-war recordings available. The 1949 performance was issued by EMI. The other two are from 1951. The earlier one in Cairo was first released by DG in 1976 on LP and is included here. The later one in Rome has been released by Tahra. These three post-war performances are quite similar, although many prefer the 1949 one.
When it comes to Bruckner 8, the wartime Magnetofonkonzert in 1944 is considered the best among Furtwängler’s four extant recordings of this symphony, and is fortunately included here. The other three are post-war concerts, less inspired and less angst-ridden than the wartime one.
The only Bruckner 9 performance in Furtwängler’s discography is considered by many as one of the best recordings in history of this symphony. It was first issued by DG in a memorial LP box set in 1963, and is logically included in this new CD set. A recording not to be missed!
The Decca Bruckner 4
This concert recording was made on 29 October 1951 in the Congress Hall of the Deutsche Museum, Munich. Strangely this Bruckner 4 has not been released on CD by Decca internationally and so it is considered rather rare.
The Japanese CD versions that I have include a 1996 CD released by King Record, “manufactured under license of Polydor K.K.” (KICC 2502), and a 1997 CD released by Polygram K.K. Japan (POCL-4302). The sound of the latter is not good, being dry and thin, compared to the former. The sound of KICC 2502 has an LP-feel, rich with a good bass; the timbre of the Viennese cellos is fuller and mellower in particular.
Later, in 2002, Orfeo released a double-CD of the concert on 29 October 1951 and also Haydn 88 of a week earlier (C5590221). The sound appears more modern and transparent, but the price to pay is that it becomes dry and the brass loses the mellowness of the VPO. The sort of monopoly by Gottfried Kraus on the remastering of Furtwängler’s VPO recordings has raised a few eyebrows, and I can confess that I’m not one of those who like his particularly sonic signature in these remasterings.
Then Tahra in 2004 included this Bruckner 4 in her 4-CD Wilhelm Furtwängler In Memoriam. The sound is even worse than the Orfeo’s, being aggressively bright and coarse, with the higher notes sounding piercing and shrill, and thus losing the famous Viennese charm of the VPO.
The CD in the new DG set (CD33) has a much better sound than that of Orfeo and Tahra. The sound is a good mix of clarity, fullness and warmth. There is no information given on remastering. The 1996 Japanese CD may sound a little richer but is less clear.
A good start I’d say 🙂