WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-43495-2
The scale of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Second Symphony recalls Bruckner and Mahler. But in essence Furtwängler is rather more conservative than either, despite the occasional harmonic astringency to remind us that the piece really was written in the mid-20th century. Stylistically there are more echoes of Tchaikovsky and Strauss – the Strauss of the Alpine Symphony, that is: grand, spacious, sweeping and not a little over-inflated. And although the working out of the material can be very beautiful, the themes themselves can be surprisingly cheesy. Daniel Barenboim conducts an impassioned, highly polished performance – a fitting tribute to the man whose warm praise helped establish Barenboim as a pianist and whose conducting continues to inspire him today, nearly half a century after Furtwängler’s death. It may convince some listeners that Furtwängler was a better composer than received opinion would have us believe. But it’s unlikely to establish him as one of the German master symphonists. To get the measure of Furtwängler the artist you’re better off listening to his recordings of the work of others. Composing may well have deepened his understanding of Bruckner, Brahms and Beethoven, but valued strictly on its own terms, it was a dead end.