Furtwängler Symphony No. 3
Wilhelm Furtwangler's most active period as a composer was in his younger years before he achieved fame as a conductor. But after the age of 30 a strong creative impulse still led him to work intermittently and for the rest of his life on a handful of large-scale symphonic structures. An early teenage symphony was abandoned after a first performance in 1903. Then his first professional concert as a conductor contained a Largo movement which would later become part of his First Symphony proper, though this was not completed until 30 years later. A Second Symphony was written during the war years and became known a little through Furtwangler's own 1951 recording for DG, but the Third Symphony has had to wait until now for a recording.
This work consists of four movements, all of which last something over a quarter of an hour and share a common mood of darkness and pessimism, though Furtwangler manages at least a partial resolution in the finale. Furtwangler's intensely serious nature—''when I am not happy I am unhappy'', he once said—precludes any of those lighter interludes which provide welcome contrast in Mahler's symphonies, and his creative gifts are not really equal to the very ambitious scale of the work. Each promising idea seems to die an early death, to be succeeded by another false dawn, and the symphony tends to meander. Furtwangler's late-romantic style is a little like Pfitzner writ large, with elements of Mahler, Strauss and Bruckner present from time to time.
I can imagine that this work was a considerable challenge for the Austrian, Alfred Walter, who has been at the head of the Brussels RTBF Symphony Orchestra since 1984, but he conducts with much energy and skill. His orchestra plays very well, even if it is not quite in the very first rank. The recording rather lacks detail and refinement, but is otherwise serviceable.'