19 August 2016

Flashback to 19 August 1951

Orchestral concert at the Salzburg Festival with Furtwängler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic:

Mendelssohn: The Hebrides – concert overture
Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5

This concert is special in certain ways. It is unusually long. It features the then 26-year-old Fischer-Dieskau’s Salzburg Festival debut. Its recording includes the only extant Furtwängler recording of Bruckner 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic. 

The discography of this concert is quite typical of many of Furtwängler’s concert recordings – each piece of music was issued separately, often by different companies, at different times.

Not until 1982 was the whole concert issued on vinyls – by the German Furtwängler Society. Prior to that only the Bruckner symphony appeared first on LPs, issued by the Canadian company Rococo around 1975 (Rococo 2034). In the early 1980s, Furtwängler Societies in Germany and Japan issued recordings of the whole concert on LPs, and these quickly became collector’s items. The Italian company Fonit Cetra issued the Bruckner 5 together with the 1st May 1951 Bruckner 7 in Rome in a box-set (FE 42) in 1984.

Rococo 2034

WFSG F667.497-498M

WFJ 6-7

Fonit Cetra FE42

When it came to the CD era, “official” releases became available, but mostly for the Bruckner 5. EMI issued the recording of this symphony in 1995 with the sound source from a private tape held by the conductor’s wife. The sound is fairly limited. When Orfeo issued the whole concert in their Salzburg Festival box set, the sound has improved. However there are two unofficial releases with surprisingly good sound. One is from Arkadia (1993) with a well balanced sound. Another is from Grand Slam (2015), which used a 2-track reel-to-reel tape as the sound source. The sound is immediate and full-bodied with an emphasis on the bass. It is a pleasure to listen to it.

Orfeo C409048L (8-CD set) and C336931B

From left to right: Grand Slam GS-2133; Orfeo C409048L; EMI CDH 5657502; Arkadia CDWFE 360.1

Many would prefer Furtwängler’s wartime Bruckner 5 with the Berlin Philharmonic, but this Vienna Philharmonic rendition has attractions in its own right, be it the woodwind timbre and playing, or the silky violin tone.  There may be imperfections in the ensemble, particularly in the finale, but the unique lure of Furtwängler’s approach to Bruckner more than compensates for them.