Ferocious, passionate, desperate, monumental... these are just a few of the words I would use to describe the "Furtwangler Conducts Beethoven" series offered here by Amazon.com and the Music & Arts label. Technically reconstructed by musical engineers using state-of-the-art equipment, Furtwangler's musical offerings from wartime Germany sound as fresh and inspiring as any interpretation of Beethoven I have ever heard. Although debate seems to have been raised concerning the quality of these Furtwangler pieces, true audiophiles who remember the age of vinyl will find a bit of charm in the occasional pop and minimal static displayed on some of the tracks. Accolades to the technical staff who re-mastered these pieces!
Furtwangler remains a bit of an enigma to audiences both inside and outside of Germany. His role as one of the most respected conductors in National Socialist Germany still elicits uncomfortable reactions from fans of classical music. Torn between dismissing him as a pawn of a totalitarian state or a musical genius who transcended the political era in which he flourished, Furtwangler fans have been comfortable to let the ambiguous conductor occupy a sort of ideological gray era for the past 55+ years, neither lauded nor condemned. Thankfully the staff at the Music & Arts label, and purveyors of classical music the world over, have decided to finally let the music do the talking! A resurgence in Furtwangler's work has insured that many more offerings of the conductors work are to come - hopefully from the controversial "war years" that marked the apex of his career.
The "Furtwangler Conducts Beethoven" CD introduces itself with Furtwangler's titanic offering of Symphony #3. Recorded in 1944 in the heart of Hitler's Third Reich (by then already reeling from massive Allied bombing raids and catastrophic reversals on the Eastern Front), Furtwangler manages to sum up the desperate urgency of the German people in their moment of national distress. On that night, Symphony #3 clamored, stomped and devoured everything in its path. I have, quite simply, never heard such a ferocious, awe-inspiring interpretation of this Symphony. It is unparalleled.
The comprehensive liner notes indicate that Furtwangler was obsessed with Beethoven Symphony #5 in C minor, and here we are offered an interpretation from June of 1943. Yet again Furtwangler pushes the work to new heights. The boldness of the opening musical volley paves the way for a fiery, ground shaking, thunderous reading of a piece that Furtwangler obviously felt was meant to bombard audiences into submission! Critiques of Furtwangler's work have suggested that the frightful stress and strain of the instrumentation detracts from the work - but that is exactly why Furtwangler shines brightest when conducting Beethoven! It is as if the God of Thunder himself has descended to deliver bouquets of lightning!
Symphony #9 in D minor represents what could be considered the most moving track on this 4-disc collection. Fittingly, it is also the last selection on the last disc. Furtwangler fluctuates between driving his instruments (and undoubtedly musicians as well) to the edge of exhaustion, to then turning back from the chaotic abyss to allow the subtle, sweeping portions of the work to lull you into safer places. It is recommended that you not listen to this track while driving, as you are likely to swerve off of the road! Recorded in March of 1942, before Stalingrad and El Alemein, before the monstrous firebombing raids of precious Hamburg and Dresden, Furtwangler seems to have understood the steep precipice upon which his entire country teetered.
The other selections on "Furtwangler Conducts Beethoven" are just as moving and just as powerful as the tracks I have mentioned. The tracks have been carefully selected and best typify Furtwangler's fiery brand of conducting. No fan of either Furtwangler, or even Beethoven, can afford to neglect the selections offered here by Music & Arts. Although the historical background of the tracks adds a unique dimension to the work, Furtwangler's interpretation of Beethoven is truly, truly timeless and transcends both the war and the era in which he flourished. Submerge yourself in this work, and you will forever listen to music differently.