Having now covered those composers whose music fills multiple CDs or multiple selections in the recent EMI collection Wilhelm Furtwängler: The Great EMI Recordings (Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss), I can now move on to what remains. In roughly chronological order, these selections are as follows:
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 550 symphony in G minor
- Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken I/94 symphony in G major (“Surprise”)
- The overture to Luigi Cherubini’s opera Anacréon
- Franz Schubert’s D. 759 symphony in B minor (“Unfinished”)
- Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 violin concerto in E minor with Yehudi Menuhin as soloist
- Franz Liszt’s “Les Préludes”
- Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Opus 74 symphony in B minor (“Pathétique”)
- Furtwängler’s own B minor “Symphonic Concerto,” only the second movement with Edwin Fischer on piano
- Béla Bartók’s second violin concerto, again with Menuhin
There is clearly a strong bias towards the classical here, even in the nineteenth-century selections. However, Furtwängler brings a nineteenth-century aesthetic to his Mozart interpretation; and the result is a reading that is compelling in its urgency while still being basically faithful to the score pages (not to mention Heinrich Schenker’s extensive analysis of those score pages). Indeed, even with the lesser known offerings, one gets a sense that Furtwängler is always giving the composer his best shot (including when he is, himself, the composer). From this point of view, his work with Menuhin on the Bartók concerto is probably the most interesting offering of the set.
However, I have to say that I was most drawn to the compositions that I knew the least. Furtwängler’s own composition had moody qualities that could clearly be traced back to other compositions that he could conduct so well. However, it still had enough characteristics to establish a distinct voice and raise curiosity about its other movements. Similarly, we do not get to hear very much Cherubini these days. Whatever the reasons may be for Anacréon not being in the repertoire of major opera companies, Furtwängler certainly made a good case for the merits of the overture.
Taken as a whole, then, this EMI collection offers many of Furtwängler’s best encounters with recording technology; and, through all of the selections on these twenty CDs (the 21st is an “audio documentary”), listeners unfamiliar with this conductor can come to know why so many of today’s conductors admire him so much.