SWF D08 – The Berlin Pastorale, 1944

Our latest download, SWF D08, is now available: Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, recorded during one of the concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic of 20-21 March 1944 in the hall of the Staatsoper.

This tape, originating from Berlin, has been the object of great care and attention on our part. Over and beyond the tuning, it was above all in connection with the sound that Christophe Hénault (Art et Sons Studio) has been working, the same person who processed the Stockholm concerts (Schubert of 1943, Deutsches Requiem of 1948). The strings, the violins to be frank, were very aggressive and even shrill. On the other hand, the various bass registers seemed to have been taken over by a herd of elephants. The Berliner to be true offered Furtwängler the bass support he required, yet here it became a buzzing sound in which it was impossible to make out the melodic line, when in fact it is a characteristic feature of this symphony that the melodic themes are presented by using all the desks, including those that are often only in counterpoint.

The sound thus presents a highly homogeneous spectrum in which all the instruments find their original colours, within a complex interweaving as designed by the composer. The Pastorale is certainly the most difficult symphony to prepare – with a density rivalling that of the Missa Solemnis: it is almost impossible to bring out everything. This is, however, precisely what Furtwängler achieved, with tempi somewhat more flowing that those in later versions, and notably the ‘official’ Viennese version of 1952. We nonetheless find the customary features of his interpretation: tempos that are more or less easygoing, those of a walk or a stroll (Beethoven was no fan of jogging!), of musings on a riverbank, the simple joy of gazing at traditional peasant festivities, a thunderstorm treated as a great recitative, and a finale that is completely filled with the fragrant, mellow warmth of a starlit evening. An example? A passage in this movement, where, as though intoxicated, we breathe the rhythms of nature...

The digital sleeve notes include the very fine analysis of this performance that Harry Halbreich wrote for the first release as an LP, as well as the list of Furtwängler’s Pastorales and a register of the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic of that period.

In parallel we publish the detailed comparative study written some thirty years ago by Benoît Lejay. In the absence of the source text, we make available in our Studies a facsimile of the sleeve note accompanying the CD SWF 901.

16 May 2020

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