Friday, April 14, 2017

Furtwangler Symphony #1 (1908-1941) needs new performances

Having become interested in the completed Bruckner Ninth in recent years, I went back and took a look at the Furtwangler, whose Second Symphony I discussed here in February 2012.
But now the attention is on the Symhony #1 in B Minor.  Furtwangler conceived of the work in 1908 (one year before the Mahler Ninth, and six years before Germany started WWI)), when he was 22.

  Now, Wilhelm Furtwangler is better known as a conductor to many people, and his actions during WWII created controversy given the Nazi regime, which Wikipedia pretty well summarizes.

In 1908, in fact, Furtwangler composed a symphonic movement called “Largo”, which he reworked as the first movement of the 1941 Symphony #1, composed as Nazi power was reaching its most ferocious, before America would be pulled into the War by Pearl Harbor.  In fact, the 31-minute first movement (one of the longest purely orchestra individual symphonic movements in literature) is a rather conventional but expansive sonata-allegro, and “Moderato” would have been a more appropriate marking. There are three theme groups, with the second and third themes spawning what sound like familiar melodies.  The last theme will gradually morph into the “big tune” in the finale.  The movement has an extended, quiet epilogue with some militaristic effects which anticipate Shostakovich.

The Scherzo, only 9 minutes, is even elfish, and will grow familiar quickly, in the home key of B Minor.

The Adagio, at 16 minutes, in G Major, has a noble four-note hymn-like motive that will sound familiar. One expects something that sounds like a great Bruckner Adagio, but the music is somewhat gentler and kinder.  The harmonic palette is about as close to Brahms as to Bruckner – again a curious mixture (as with Rheinberger).

But it is the 26-minute finale where Furtwangler’s compositional techniques really do seem influenced by Bruckner.  He weaves the motives from the first three movements (especially a 4-note fugal motif) to rebuild them into new themes.  Even the final “big tune” at the end seems to be constantly reinventing itself and modulating.  Furtwangler prepares a final pedal point in B Major in a manner resembling the wat Bruckner concludes his own Symphony #5 (in B-flat), and though here the final chorale theme keeps transforming itself into the final drumroll and tonic chords.

The performance above is by Gerd Alexander Albrecht and the Staatskapelle Weimar.  I have the CD advertised above from Amazon.

Would an Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic look at this work and consider giving ti a performance?  It might be "politically" controversial, but the music is inspiring?
This does sound like appropriate "Good Friday" listening.

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