Furtwängler Symphony No 2
It was during the Second World War that Furtwangler began work on his second—and without doubt, finest—symphony. It is a deeply affecting work, structured and formulated after the manner of late Bruckner, superbly orchestrated, and blessed with an unusually rich array of densely charged ideas which Furtwangler is here able to exploit to genuinely symphonic ends.
Musically, it is almost as important a document as some other, better-known, works that came out of the war—Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, Honegger's Liturgique, Vaughan Williams's Sixth. Indeed, it was Honegger himself who said of the work: ''The man who can write a score as rich as [this] is not to be argued about. He is of the race of great musicians''.
Furtwangler recorded the symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1951 (DG—nla); but the general opinion, including Furtwangler's own, was that the performance was stilted, the recording opaque. Though held in a private archive, the finest performance of the symphony was said to be the one recorded live with the Vienna Philharmonic in the Musikvereinssaal in February 1953.
Well, here it is, commercially available for the first time and a double joy: first, as a truly inspired rendering of the symphony and, secondly, as a simply incandescent performance in its own right. The Vienna Philharmonic can have barely known the work, yet their playing is both keenly profiled and intoxicating to the senses. Music-making of this order of skill is inexplicable, God-given. (Alongside such inspiration and eloquence the ill-played 1992 Marco Polo recording is nowhere by comparison,)
The recording, too, is superb, beautifully clear, finely proportioned, and heavy with that indefinable thing I can only rather feebly call 'atmosphere'. (If you want a test point, try the symphony's extraordinarily imagined scherzo.) There are occasional faint traces of post-echo after big climaxes, but they are so faint as to be all but unnoticeable. In sum, a priceless document that should be bought, heard and have honours heaped upon it.'