Furtwängler Symphony No 2

A hard slog, but not an unworthy one

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Furtwängler Symphony No 2

  • Symphony No. 2

This 2003 Weimar recording of Furtwängler’s Second Symphony completes George Alexander Albrecht’s cycle of the three Furtwängler symphonies. His reading is close to the composer’s own, though, that said, there is not a great deal of room for manoeuvre in an 80-minute symphony built out of convoluted sonata-form structures which do little to encourage diversionary tactics or deviations from the approved route. The work’s principal failing, from the listener’s point of view, is a more or less total absence of memorable melodic or thematic writing. (This from a composer who observed ‘It is said that the age of melody is past; the ever-changing popular song reveals the opposite.’) The result is not unlike one of those featureless fell walks one convinces oneself wasn’t a waste of a day in the hills whilst vowing never to do it again.

What is fascinating (and difficult for the orchestra) is the scoring, though there are fewer differences than one might imagine between the results Albrecht draws from his Weimar players and the seemingly more assured playing of the Chicago Symphony under Barenboim. As for Furtwängler’s own performances, the one to have is the live 1953 Vienna Philharmonic version – preferable by far, as he himself conceded, to his 1951 Berlin studio recording.

Orfeo fits the 1953 performance onto a single CD, though as the Albrecht costs less than a tenner and the Barenboim is priced as a single CD, continuity is Orfeo’s trump card, not cost. That would be my own first choice. Furtwängler‘s shaping of the music makes the most of what thematic interest there is and, even more than Albrecht, he brings out a sense of the dissonance within – of something nasty lurking in the woodshed.

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