Looking at 3 upcoming Japanese Furtwängler CD releases as a child…..

Nowadays CD releases, in particular reissues, of Furtwängler’s recordings are so myriad that even his most ardent fans can have a headache. As such I have tried to regress to being a child in Hans Christian Anderson’s story, and look at 3 upcoming Japanese releases through this child’s eyes.

Bayreuth Beethoven 9 from Warner Music Japan HQCD (WPCS28425)

This repeatedly remastered and reissued recording now has a new descendant. What is so special about this new reissue? It is claimed to be based on a new 2019 DSD 11.2 MHz file made from the original analogue master tape. As such it is different from the 2011 96kHz/24bit master used for the “MQA-CDxUHQCD” issued just 3 months ago (WPCS28420), which at that time was claimed to be of the ultimate sound quality! So here you are, a further “improvement” from the “ultimate” just 3 months ago!

My question is if it is such a high-res master of DSD 11.2 MHz quality (supposed to be 256 times that of a red-book CD), then why do they regress/reduce it back to the meagre CD quality for reissue? Why don’t they just release this DSC 11.2MHz file for download in the market? It is not a million dollar question; it is only a 40 dollar question at most.

January 1951 VPO Beethoven 9 from Otaken CD (TKC367)

The sound source of this CD is a “mint LP” which presumably is King Records K19C287-8 (issued in 1983 and incidentally is identical to Cetra FE33). King Records had issued an LP of the same recording one year earlier (K22C173) which had a poorer sound (supposedly from an air check) and contained parts of the 1951 Bayreuth recording mixed into the 4th movement of this VPO recording. The “mint LP” used as the sound source was thought to be based on a master tape transcription. However, given the fact that this recording has been released by Orfeo (within the 18-CD box set C834118Y) utilizing the master tape from the radio station, you can know the difference in the generation of copies from the master tape being used between this upcoming Otaken CD and the Orfeo CD. This CD is just part of the trend in Japanese reissues using LPs as sound sources. You are the one to judge whether it adds anything meaningfully new to your collection.

June 1949 Wiesbaden Mozart and Brahms from Grand Slam CD (GS2212)

This CD is a new member of the series of CDs from its producer Naoya Hirabayashi using open-reel tapes as sound source. I won’t bother you with the merits and demerits of using these as sound source. My only question to this reissue is that according to the comments by Hirabayashi, this CD will overturn the previous “ranking” of the best Furtwängler’s Brahms 4 (btw, was opined to be the 1943 live and 1948 EMI live by the producer) because of the vivid sound of this CD. When did sound begin to take precedence over interpretation in “ranking” Furtwängler’s recordings? I’m puzzled.

All in all, going back to the child at the beginning of this posting, he seems to be only able to see the emperor’s new clothes in these 3 releases.

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.

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.

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.

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.