The other side of Wilhelm Furtwängler

The other side of Wilhelm Furtwängler


norman lebrecht

September 25, 2019

Deutsche Grammophon asked me to make a series of videocasts, elaborating on the unofficial aspects of the great conductor.

Here‘s the intro and here’s the first vid.


More to come.


Oh, yes. We’ll come to this.


  • Jack says:

    Furtwangler’s legendary Tristan recording was widely available from the 1950s onwards. In the early 60s, I sat alone in a high school band room in a rural Wisconsin town for four hours listening to it full tilt on the sound system. That and his Beethoven 9 had been staples on Angel records for years. So while perhaps he had fallen into some obscurity during the early days when people were all agog over stereo and WF was a ‘mono’ guy, I don’t think he was exactly a forgotten figure. At least to this 14 year old kid he wasn’t.

    • Leporello says:

      His 1953 (mono) Tristan recording with the Philharmonia, Kirsten Flagstad, Ludwig Suthaus, Blanche Thebom and a young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the most influential artistic experiences of my life. In his hands the orchestra stopped being just a lot of instruments and became something metaphysical. Unforgettable.

      • Novagerio says:

        Leporello: it’s from 1950. And yes, it’s a great recording. Although all the high tones of Isolde are recorded by Mrs.Legge.

        But if you really want to abandon yourself in the opium-like transcendental magic of Furtwängler, try the abbreviated live 1947 recording fom Berlin.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I obtained dozens of Furtwangler LPs in the time between I started buying classical records, around 1969, and the advent of CDs, all at my local new and used record shops – no mail order necessary.
    Operas, symphonies, the EMI and Scala Rings, the Schwarzkopf Wolf recital, all of his recorded Bruckner – I have (or had) them all on LP. Studio recordings, live recordings, pre-, during, and post-war.
    If you couldn’t find Furtwangler records in the LP days, you just weren’t looking hard enough.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I also remember easily finding Furtwangler recordings LPs in the 70s, though nowhere as many as are available since the 90s.
      While I think Norman Lebrecht is overstating the dearth of available Furtwangler recordings in the 60s, I can imagine that Barenboim was playing to Mehta over the phone a specific Furtwangler recording that was hard to obtain.

  • Rob says:

    His 2nd Symphony has some interesting moments.

    • Bone says:

      Yes it does. The Barenboim/Chicago recording should e given a fair shake by any post-Romantic orchestra fans.

      • batonbaton says:

        Try Furtwangler’s own recordings of it, or his other works such as the piano concerto. Jochum’s recording of 2nd symphony – far superior to badly conducted Barenboil..

    • Brettermeier says:

      “His 2nd Symphony has some interesting moments.”

      So you felt the urge to switch it off, too?

  • M McAlpine says:

    Funny I remember Furtwangler LPs being available during the 1960s. I remember it came out as a special issue from HMV to launch (I think) a “Great Recordings of the Century” series.

  • Paul Thomason says:

    When I began collecting lps in the late 1960s and all through the 70s Furtwängler was extremely well represented in all the NYC record shops. His commercial recordings (symphonic repertoire as well as opera) were on Angel or its budget label, Seraphim. The complete RING from RAI was released commercially by EMI (I think it was) on lp with a great deal of press attention. In addition a number of live performances were also available on quite a number of pirate labels, and many stores carried them as well. The La Scala RING was also released on a minor budget label and I remember seeing stacks of it at Tower Records. So it is not at all accurate to say people couldn’t know his performances. He was a mythic figure yes, but that was because of his numerous performances that were readily available on lp.

  • KANANPOIKA says:

    After purchasing Furtwängler’s “Tristan,” I was early on stopped in my tracks by the ever-intrusive,
    UNBEARABLY coarse playing of the principal oboe….

    I have since gifted the set….

  • Nomath says:

    Maybe the editions in the UK were different, but on the continent many Furtwängler recordings were available on LP in the 70’s. The first I collected was Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with DFD. But I also had Schumann 4+Manfred, Haydn 94 + Mozart 40, Schubert 9, Strauss Tone Poems, Hindemith Sinfonische Variationen and a 4-LP box with Brahms symphonies. Mostly HMV but also some DGG.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Speaking of the “continent”, Austrian and German classical public radio stations are treasure troves of Furtwangler live recordings, many of which have now been released commercially. But many of them were broadcast over the years. Furtwangler’s interpretations were not such a mystery, at least in the Austro-German world between 1954 and 1983.

  • Francis Wood says:

    I share this enthusiasm for Furtängler interpretations but I am completely puzzled about the remarks concerning the difficulty of obtaining his recordings in the pre-CD years – “a mystical figure who existed but didn’t exist!” As an impecunious student who certainly could not afford pirate recordings or rare and expensive Japanese pressings I had no difficulty in buying a good number of Furtwängler LPs which I still own and enjoy.

  • Edgar Self says:

    A worthy tribute to the great conductor.

    Tristan certainly, including the two live acts from Berlin 1947 with Erna Schlueter and a younger Suthaus, directed by Frida Leider. Also Fidelio, the 1954 studio Walkuere from Vienna, a Don Giovanni filmed by Paul Czinner with Siepi.

    IGood to see mention of the live Salzburg recital with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf of Hugo Wolf Lieder … “Wie schoen gaenzt der Hellemond” with St. Peter cobbling shoes outside heaven’s gate … The live Brahms symphonies on EMI with BPO/VPO. I’ll add Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin preludes, Siegfried’s Death with VPO.

    I was at Barenboim’s concert of Furtwengler’s second symphony and thought the CD drawn from it sounds better, thoughl well short of F.’s.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Not so !! My parents had LPs of Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth as well as of Tristan.
    I purchased cassettes of Furtwängler in the Eighties (Wagner, some of it with Flagstad).
    I also distinctly remember that Brahms 2 (DG) and the Emperor concerto with Edwin Fischer were available.

  • Fan says:

    Very nice shirt and socks.

  • christopher breunig says:

    Yes your intro is wide of the mark. I wrote a Furtwängle piece in Audio Recod Review in 1967 and EMI showed it to Daniel Barenboim, who kindly lent me a batch of Melodiya LPs from tapes taken by the Soviets from German radio stations. John Goldsmith later issued some of them on his Unicorn label. There was a WFSociety which was always prompting the companies for reissues.