Performer: Erna Berger, Helge Rosvaenge
Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Wilhelm Furtwängler
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Size: 145 MB
2. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
3. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: Scherzo: Molto vivace
4. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: Adagio molto e cantabile
5. Symphony No. 9 in D minor (‘Choral’), Op. 125: Finale. Presto etc.
6. Closing announcement
Stunning, Profound, Hellish, Miraculous, Historic
**NOTE: I finished this review and felt I had to come back to the beginning to apologize for all the gushing hyperbole which follows. I’ve never written a review like it. I must add, however, that I will not change a single word of it.**
An absolutely incredible performance on so many levels. A brilliant handling of the Berlin Philharmonic by Furtwangler displaying, without a doubt, his uncanny control over his orchestra and that he “gets” the Ninth.
But there is an undercurrent to this work which moves this amazing performance to another place entirely. The sparse liner notes inform you this recording was the Berlin Philharmonic in 1942. There is little information about this performance but it is safe to assume, owing to the high profile of the work, the location of the recording and the notoriety of its brilliant conductor, it was largely witnessed by the elite of Nazi Germany.
In early 1942 Hitler controlled most of Europe and was peaking in power. It is in this atmosphere of intense nationalism that music by a German composer, performed by a German orchestra with a brilliant German conductor, combined to create a historical record which cannot be overlooked.
The audio quality is not good, but do not let this stop you from listening to it. It only takes a few minutes before you realize you are listening to a first movement like you have never heard before in any performance of the Ninth; one filled with complexity, passion and utterly glorious raw power and rage. Not being a musician, it is difficult for me to tell if there are any musical flaws in it. None are apparent, in fact, it sounds unbelievably flawless (I will be interested to hear a musician’s perspective on this).
What I hear is an engrossing musical performance topped off with the most awe-inspiring fourth movement I’ve ever listened to. This movement has always affected me profoundly but this performance of it had me thinking Beethoven had truly figured out a way to communicate with the Almighty.
Beyond the musical character of the performance, it is impossible not to allow the circumstances of the recording to influence your perspective on it. Historically, Furtwangler’s performance is as important as Leni Riefenstahl’s cinematic brilliance with films like “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympiad.” These works expose a dark duality in beauty, both compelling and terrifying. I cannot imagine a more profound example of the clash of the sacred and the profane, not only in music but in all art.
An amazing thing has happened to nearly everyone to whom I have played this recording. Once they know the context of the symphony, even little things as annoying as the intermittent audience coughing (perhaps it was a cold, wet Berlin spring) take on an interesting character and add to the mystery and enormity of the performance which was probably populated by some of the 20th century’s most horrifying monsters.
An amazing and worthwhile addition to any music collection.