Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 7
Sound Quality: 7
Completed in 1941, Wilhelm Furtwängler’s mammoth First Symphony in B minor was withdrawn by the composer after he led the Berlin Philharmonic through the work in a single rehearsal. The conductor/composer’s widow recalled that Furtwängler telephoned her directly after the rehearsal and told her there were too many things wrong with the symphony. He was right. More often than not, Furtwängler’s melodic ideas run into the ground before they have a chance to develop, or prematurely build into mini-climaxes that huff and puff, stop in midair, and say, “Okay, what do we do next?” The scherzo is the shortest and most effective of the symphony’s four movements, and its mosaic-like motives inspire lovely instrumental banter among the orchestral sections.
George Alexander Albrecht’s craggy ascent of the sprawling outer movements, replete with dark, hefty brass playing, plays up the music’s Brucknerian ambitions (the harmonic language is best described as Bruckner meets early Stravinsky), yet I prefer the clearer textures, more characterful playing, and tauter pacing Alfred Walter brings to his recording with the Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic–a superior orchestra to Albrecht’s Staatskapelle Weimar. Moreover, Walter requires one disc to Albrecht’s two. If you’re curious about Furtwängler’s orchestral music, you’re better off starting with his infinitely stronger Second Symphony; but if you crave Furtwängler One, Alfred Walter on Marco Polo is the way to go.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Walter (Marco Polo)
WILHELM FURTWÄNGLER - Symphony No. 1 in B minor