Berlin to release Furtwängler’s war records

Berlin to release Furtwängler’s war records


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2019

The Berliner Philharmoniker will be putting out a 22-CD box set next month of the complete wartime recordings of Wilhem Furtwängler, its deeply compromised chief conductor.

The recordings, which were whisked off by the Russians and hidden until the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been completely remastered. It is the first time the orchestra has released Furtwängler on its own media.



  • Pedro says:

    I don’t like Furtwängler as a person but some of his recordings are very impressive. Will buy the box.

    • martain smith says:

      Refreshing to see someone who can seperate the message from the messenger. I’m sure the are dozens of top artists who have skeletons in their cupboards – but their artistry can still shine!

    • paul lewis says:

      You must have been very young when you knew him considering that he died 65 years ago.

  • Michael says:

    I was wondering when a complete box set of these recordings would become available. I’ll be making this purchase.

  • aj says:

    Why would anyone in their right mind buy these recordings.What do the recordings have to do
    with music as a living art form ?

    • Michael says:


    • Tamino says:

      What does a painting or or a good photography have to do with the real thing it portraits? It is what it is. Recordings can bring music to the ear, the mind and the heart, just like live performances. Of course without the other benefits live performances bring. But also without the shortcomings (bad seats in bad acoustics, people with pneumonia flocking to concert hall in masses, getting stuck in traffic on the way, price of a good seat… etc.)
      You sound terribly elitist. Only a very few can afford to attend live concerts with the greatest artists, sitting in a good seat.

      • aj says:

        A recording is just that ,a recording of an event’
        At its best it approximates to a degree what
        went on but cannot present you with any truth.
        A recording is a frozen moment in time
        and reflects only that moment as does a
        photographic snap shot .If you are willing
        to live with the same inflections over
        and over so be it .Any good musician will tell that in playing a work ten times over there are
        ten different versions however subtle ..Listen
        to a violin live and listen to a recording of same then dare to say the sound is the same ..Music
        is about true sound not reproduction.
        Do not confuse “painting” with photography.

        • Tamino says:

          Your mind is full of false assumptions.
          Define “true sound” first of all!
          Where is the true sound of a violin for instance?
          The one the player hears, with the violin under his chin?
          What the conductor hears?
          What you hear in row 10 middle?
          What John hears in the left balcony row 5?

          All sound totally different.
          So does the recording.
          Where is “the truth”?
          Who defines it?
          Maybe the microphones are even in a better position than too many people in the hall, sitting hopelessly distant to the instrument, to catch the subtle nuances of articulation and voicing?

          Do you also condemn films, because they reproduce a story, repeatable at will?

          “A recording is just that ,a recording of an event’
          At its best it approximates to a degree what
          went on but cannot present you with any truth.”

          Really? Again, your misconception of “truth”. There is no more or less truth in the sound that comes out of a loudspeaker than what comes to your ear ‘naturally’ in a concert hall. Both are perceptions, depending on your brain to recompose them to something meaningful, in this case music.

          Probably you just feel better listening to music life. That’s all fine. But that’s a feeling, not “truth”, or let’s say, it’s the truth about your feelings, not about the music.

          • aj says:

            The true sound of a violin comes from a violinist playing upon the instrument, the sound is made by a bow crossing the strings.All things being equal the greater
            the violinist the greater the bow arm .The
            violinist hears the true sound which he tries to project to his audience that in
            most cases is there because of the sound.Elman,Menuhin, Kreisler.etc.It is
            not a sound that is decided upon by an engineer sitting in room and dialing what he thinks is best for you to hear. In most
            caes row10 is much more to be desired
            than row 5 balcony where you have to be
            more attentive to the nuances row 10 hears with more ease but in both cases the sound is true not remastered to suit the times.
            You take films for what they are …you might note that some of the most admired performers rarely look at their
            films knowing they would have done
            their work differently.
            again play the piano or violin record it
            and tell us the sound is the same .
            Perhaps the day will come when you will buy a ticket to listen in a packed hall to
            a concert of remastered recordings with the same nuances over and over,&over.
            Just beware of crowds with all sorts
            of illnesses………..

    • Tamino says:

      …also, in this case, could you please give us a link to the current season’s concert calendar of Furtwängler. Thank you. I would so prefer to hear him live…

  • Caravaggio says:

    Oh Jesus. Great news albeit a bit soured by the compromising we must make.

  • Steve says:

    This was like US $350 in Japan, I hope this comes in at a more reasonable $75-100.

  • Tribonian says:

    Has anyone been able to find a full track listing for the recordings? The Berlin Phil site doesn’t seem to include them all.

  • Dan P. says:

    DG issued a good number of these war-time performances separately in the late 80s / early 90s following the repatriation of the tapes in 1987. The sound is actually quite good because they were made on tape. I believe they they’ve also been included in the 107-disc set called Wilhelm Furtwaengler – The Legacy that was published by Membran a few years ago.

    • handhopf says:

      There is a misunderstanding: the DG edition is based on copy tapes made in Russia, partly with added artificial ambience. This new edition for the first time directly digitized the original broadcast tapes, which were sent back to Berlin in 1991 – when the DG edition already had been available. That‘s why this new edition should offer superior sound to any other release.

  • Tomas Avramov says:

    “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” I am sure that one needs more courage to remain in war Germany and play music there than to criticize it in the comfort of home in peaceful times. But anyway, some of your writings are interesting, rich and nice, thanks for that.

  • Dennis says:

    This should be a treat. His wartime performances of Beethoven and Bruckner especially are amazing to hear.

    A good man and a great conductor. “Deeply compromised”? More like unfairly slandered after the war by self-righteous moral poseurs. And unlike von Karajan, he never stooped to careerist moves like becoming a party member. Plenty of Soviet composers, conductors, and other artists were no less “compromised” during that regime, yet many of them are given a free pass by self-anointed post hoc arbiters of political morality, while only those who continued working during the National Socialist regime are treated as beyond the pale.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Furtwangler was never enthusiastic about the Nazi regime, and never a supporter. Like a lot of people at that time, he tried to avoid getting involved in politics and, as best he could, avoid involvement with the Nazis. But inevitably, was put in awkward situations sometimes. While not exactly heroic, there really does not seem to be any grounds to condemn him either.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    What music will be on them? Any opera?

  • steven holloway says:

    A ‘must buy’ for me.

  • Jon McGurk says:

    This puts me in a quandary: I was just set to buy Simon Rattle’s recording of the Beethoven symphonies in Berlin on vinyl because (a) I like Beethoven, (b) I prefer vinyl LPs and (c) these recordings seem to me to have a spark and depth I had never associated with Rattle before – in short they are wonderful.
    I also felt comfortable that whatever may have happened in the orchestra’s past (remembering that Karajan was a Nazi for example) the Berlin Phil had moved on.
    But Nazism was the most disgusting, vile and evil thing to have ever blighted human civilisation and say what you like about Furtwangler’s much-vaunted ‘higher purpose’ he and this orchestra were in thrall to Nazi filth throughout the whole of the period of these recordings.
    So why on earth are they not only being produced but actively celebrated? Not by a bunch of nostalgia-mongers or weirdos who think no good music was made after 1955 but by the modern Berlin Phil who should be able to recognise that they are tainted and tainted forever in a way that simply cannot be outweighed by any techinical or ‘artisitic’ merit.
    Basically these recordings should have been destroyed and good riddance to them.
    So what does that say about the orchestra and organisation which is publishing them now?
    Maybe I just need a dose of clarity and to appreciate that not everything in life is clear or has the moral clarity it should have? But the idea of these recordings being revered as works of ‘art’ disgusts me, not because of what they are but because of the choices made by the people who made them.

    • Bruce says:

      “Maybe I just need a dose of clarity and to appreciate that not everything in life is clear or has the moral clarity it should have?”

      Yes. Also I would question my use of the word “should.” Sure, simplicity in all things would be nice; but complexity is woven into the nature of all things.

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    I wonder if this box contains any previously unpublished material?

  • Michael says:

    On second thought, $229 USD! Uugh…

  • muslit says:

    Furtwangler conducted while Jews burned.

    • Tamino says:

      And what have you done today, to ease the pain and suffering of those who suffer unjustly right now in this world?

  • Paul Capon says:

    I remember hear a concert of Beethoven’s 5th by Furtwangler during the war and could not be more impressed by it. I felt, however, many in the audience were listening to it, with the view that it only confirmed German superiority, and music like that (conducted by the great Furtwangler) was one of justification to continue fighting. Furtwangler abused the greatness of Beethoven for something the composer would have found abhorrent.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Do you really think that Germany was about to surrender, and Hitler concede he was wrong about the Jews when, suddenly they heard Furtwangler play Beethoven’s 5th symphony, and somehow found the fortitude to continue fighting? Do you really?

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    As much as I admire Furtwangler as a conductor, I have always found it troubling to listen to his recordings from the war period. Today there is much disquiet about conductors like Charles Dutoit & James Levine and playing their recordings in radio stations. Yet no voices are raised against playing the records made during Nazi period in Germany. Some of the great musicians who either supported Nazi regime or chose to live in Nazi occupied territories include Walter Gieseking, Wilhelm Kempf, Alfred Cortot & even Claudio Arrau. Of course no need to mention conductors like Furtwangler, Bohm & Karajan as their activities during war time are already widely known.There were many more. It is totally inconsistent to discredit modern musicians on rather unproven charges, when we are still idolising those in the past who either tacitly supported evil regimes, or felt at home in living comfortably under them.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      But there was plenty of pushback after the war against Furtwangler, Cortot, and other artists who either collaborated with the Nazis or at the least, failed to withhold their talents from Nazi Germany. That is why Furtwangler was prevented from accepting the invite to be music director in Chicago.

      And some careers never re-started. I have a fascinating Telefunken two-LP set of “Famous Interpreters” of Wagner, pre-War (Berlin 1933; Bayreuth 1936). For the most part those splendid singers did not regain their careers – as the liner notes state with deliberate obscurity for them “there was no comeback.” In some cases their ties with the Nazis were just too close.

      Over time strong convictions against such artists tend to ease, perhaps in a natural process. But some do not ease their convictions; Mischa Elman had to be tricked into attending a performance by Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, and left when he learned who it was. Isaac Stern never performed in Germany after the way, although late in life he gave master classes. The Thibaud-Cortot-Casals trio was never re assembled, even after Cortot apologized to Casals.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Mustafa writes: “tacitly supported evil regimes, or felt at home”

      Had you thought that many of the artists living there did not feel comfortable with the regime, and longed for it to end. Do you think Knappertsbusch “felt at home”?

      The truth is that some were more compromised by their behaviour during the Nazi period than others. Few were heroic but then again, few were avid sympathizers either.

  • anon says:

    What a euphemism, the “War Recordings”, just call it for what it is, the “Nazi Recordings,” emblazoned with a big black swastika as the CD cover.

    It’d be an instant collectors item.

    I’d buy it.

  • anon says:

    With Petrenko promising no commercial recordings, what’s the Berlin Philharmonic to do, live off the legacy of Furtwängler and Karajan for the rest of time?

    • Tamino says:

      Probably, what other choice do they have?
      Wondering, what Petrenko’s directive means for their digital concert hall endeavour, since a ‘media positive’ chief like Rattle was probably essential to its creation and continued support from within the organisation.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I think Petrenko has promised that all his recordings will be on the BPO’s own label. There will still be new recordings which will be available to buy.

  • luciano tanto says:

    …taking sides.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Let us see the facts: The Americans got Toscanini, but the Nazis had Furtwängler and all those wonderful orchestras and especialy vocal soloists that good old Arturo could only dream of. Take it or leave it. For my part I’ve quitted historical recordings and I’m just now all for Chailly and Thielemann – stylistically the current Toscanini and Furtwängler – no moral considerations but in recordings I just want the best sound available.

  • Furtwangler s music making says:

    great recordings, thanks god they are existing and we can have a new impression from that incredible music making .. it is so unfair and incorrect to relate those musicians to the crimes of that time. they made great music because they had this immense tradition and they were great musicians. before, meanwhile and after .. Kulenkampff with Schumann concerto is amazing. one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, wrongly forgotten. Furtwänglers own symphonic piano concerto (performed later by Barenboim, Mehta, Maazel and many others) is a fantastic work, close to Pfitzner, Strauss but very unique. listen to that amazing recording, Kubelik conducting.

  • Mr Vaz Deferens says:

    Most if not all of these have been released on the Melodyia and Tahra labels. DG and others had to make do with duff copies of source tapes. Also