Could they be deaf?

SWF D14 to be released: Bruckner's 8th from 1954

SWF is releasing a recording of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, made during a concert in Vienna by the Wiener Philharmoniker on April 10, 1954.

Released on April 10, to mark the 70th anniversary of the concert

This performance has not been well received. When it was first published forty years ago, it even raised doubts: what if it were a fake? No, it is indeed a Furtwängler concert — and his last 8th — but the audio quality of this recording was so deplorable that it tended to be dismissed as a foul-smelling item.

But afterwards, the recording's fate changed, with some very good reissues, and one might wonder whether listeners were struck by deafness. This performance must be heard in the exceptional sound of the recording: phenomenal dynamic gradations ranging from the edges of silence (solos at the end of the Adagio) to the volcanic eruptions of the Finale; a very wide sound spectrum; and an infinite palette of colors... A forthcoming article will shed some much-needed technical light on this.

On closer listening, we discover a performance that matches the conductor's most recent interpretations of Beethoven, Schubert and others — typical of his latest style. Without the excesses of a Celibidache, Furtwängler deploys ample gestures, while remaining perfectly spirited, without the stress of the 1944 interpretation (due to the war). The pinnacle is undoubtedly the Adagio, a vision of another world... He has been criticized for using the "Haslinger" score, i.e. the first edition of 1892, and not the "Haas". Furtwängler was no great admirer of Haas, and it is unclear whether the Philharmonic had the appropriate material. However, as in 1944, Furtwängler made his own slight amendments to the score. Christophe Hénault has devoted all his care to bringing this product to life, notably by removing wowing, tape skips and noises that interfered with the musical content, but without affecting the exceptional sound quality, as exemplified here (Beginning of 2nd movement. Warning: mp3).

This concert will be available for streaming (HD and SD), but we highly recommend downloading it. The digital pack (€10 ) will include:
– a comprehensive booklet with a text by Mark Kluge,
– with inside: a number of previously unpublished snapshots (rehearsals and concerts), such as the one below,
– a technical paper about recording,
– a facsimile of the programme,
– a podcast interview with Bruckner specialist Jean-Claude Hulot (Diapason, Res Musica…).

Wikipedia, the high priest of supposedly reliable information, states in its French article about the 8th Symphony, with reference to this recording: « The 1954 [version] is to be avoided: the interpretation lacks tension and the acoustics are poor... » Let the writer of this laconic judgment listen to the SWF publication!

Rehearsal, April 9, 1954

22 March 2024

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