Notes & Reviews:
Wilhelm Furtwängler himself would have gladly have exchanged his fame as a conductor for international recognition as a composer. Nevertheless, performances of his works have remained rarities in our concert life. A few days before the performance of his 2nd Symphony by Eugen Jochum and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Furtwängler unexpectedly died, turning the concerts in December of 1954 into a memorial service for the great musician.
Furtwängler's compositions stand in the tradition of Bruckner, Wagner and Reger. His 2nd Symphony, composed in 1944 and 1945 in Switzerland, bursts the dimensions of most Bruckner symphonies and takes the musical material of the late romantic era in gigantic architectures almost to its breaking point.
Eugen Jochum had founded the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in 1949 and would continue to preside over it as Chief Conductor until 1960. As early as this first phase of its existence, the orchestra welcomed such significant guest conductors as Igor Markevitch, Ernest Ansermet and Clemens Krauss to its podium.
An early recording with Eugen Jochum, who regarded Furtwängler all his life as a role model.
Catalogue rarity: a seldom-performed work.
Catholic News Agency Notes & Reviews:
Jochum was a great Bruckner conductor, so one would expect him to do well with this Symphony. And he does. However, the music comes across as less molten and delirious than in Furtwangler's own recordings, which are incomparable, even though they are in relatively poor sound. With Furtwangler, for example, a musical rest is not simply a rest. It is a heart-stopping, breath-holding moment, pregnant with peril. No other conductor, including Daniel Barenboim in his beautiful recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, catches nuances like these. Nevertheless, Jochum builds quite a thrilling interpretation on this BR-Klassik two-CD set. I highly recommend that you get one of the available recordings of this extraordinary work.
Recording information: München, Herkulessaal der Residenz (12/09/1954-12/10/1954).
Shows Furtwangler's work in the best possible light
Some music is so durably constructed that it can withstand the poorest performance. If a badly-lead ensemble provided your first exposure to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, I think you’d still be able to determine that the failings were with the musicians and not the score.
But some music requires a little extra love to make it shine. That’s the case with Wilhelm Furtwangler’s 2nd Symphony. Furtwangler – like Mahler – was highly regarded as a conductor, but always thought of himself first as a composer. Like Mahler, his works were largely ignored during his lifetime, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike Mahler, Furtwangler’s music has never really caught on.
For a long time I believed it was completely the fault of the music. Furtwangler thought big – perhaps too big. His orchestral works are massive, and even his chamber pieces tend to push the one-hour mark. Plus, Furtwangler used Bruckner’s technique of gradually building to a dramatic climax, stopping, and then doing it again, giving me the impression that the work never really got off the ground.
In some of the recordings I’ve heard, the orchestra was clearly doing little more than sight-reading, and the conductor seemed to be just trying to get through the thing. As a result, the music never really engaged me. This new release with Eugen Jochum conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in a live 1954 performance of Furtwangler’s 2nd Symphony is another matter entirely.
Jochum was a close friend of Furtwangler, and took the time necessary to really get to know the score. The aging Furtwangler had been invited by Jochum to attend the performance, and he sat in on the orchestra’s rehearsals. But Furtwangler died nine days before the concert, and the work was then performed instead as part of a memorial concert.
Jochum (probably aided by Furtwangler’s input) had the big picture, and it shows. Rather than hearing a symphony that started and stopped, with Jochum I senses that the music was actually going somewhere. Although Furtwangler’s melodies still don’t fully stick with me, I was astonished at some of the quite beautiful passages (particularly in the fourth movement) that grew organically out of the material. Jochum knew exactly what to highlight and what to move to the background to make sense of this work.
Is Furtwangler’s 2nd Symphony a great composition? No. But the sympathetic and skillful conducting of Eugen Jochum makes the case that it is a very good work. And one that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.
Submitted on 12/09/10 by Ralph
Furtwangler: Symphony No. 2
Wilhelm Furtwangler was so well-known as a conductor that it comes as a surprise, even to experienced music-lovers, that he was also a composer. His completed three symphonies, two movements for unnumbered symphonies, and an overture. This CD is a historical recording of a live performance in 1954 by another famous conductor, the late Eugen Jochum, an ardent Furtwangler disciple. This version invites comparison with a 1953 live recording made by Furtwangler with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which fits onto a single CD; the Jochum version, at 83 minutes, is spread over two CDs.
The program notes for the Furtwangler version give some information about the symphony; those for the Jochum version explain the relationship between Furtwangler and Jochum, but give no information about the work itself. Since this work is so little-known, some information about it would have been helpful and should surely have been included.
One might argue that no one knows better than the composer how he or she wants his or her works to be performed, and that therefore the Furtwangler version has to be the more authentic of the two. However, since Jochum worked so closely during his lifetime with Furtwangler, the differences, I suggest, are minimal in this case. The recorded sound on the Furtwangler version is tolerable, but that of the Jochum version is appreciably better.
The difference in timing between the two versions is not much - 79:37 (Furtwangler) vs. 82:53 (Jochum) - but it's enough to force use of a second CD. So which would I recommend? On balance, the Jochum, despite the additional CD format and the poorer program notes.
Submitted on 12/14/10 by Ted Wilks