This is part of that legendary Salzburg Festival Wolf recital in 1953. The contrast between the two artists is pictured on the cover and marked on the record. The voice is all curve and colour, the piano all depth and solidity; the effect is like a rainbow over a mountain. Now we know what happens when the irresistible meets the immovable. But can this difference in nature yield unity in art? There are two views. Walter Legge's note comments the “wise and sensitive adjustment of the piano parts”. But Gerald Moore (Am I too loud, p. 61) is less impressed; for him Furtwängler lacks experience and overpowers the singing.
At first one is inclined to side with Mr Legge (whose translations provided with the texts are as usual both stylish and accurate). The immediacy of performance, the sense of occasion, are superbly realized. The voice is resplendent; and if it sounds even mote at home in Wolf's little world of tenderness and laughter than in his wider realm of darkness and tragedy, that too is in harmony with the music. The piano does indeed have a “deep sonority in the lower registers” and a special creative intensity, exactly as advertised. However, it also has wrong notes and inadequate technique. Wolf's harmonium style is not best illustrated by an actual lost chord, as in bar 7 of Herr, was trägt der Boden hier? (or, Maestro, what on earth is going on?). In the postlude to Epiphanias, the three kings are played out poker-faced, as if uncomfortably aware of a full house. In Wie glänzt, the heavenly calm turns into an unholy muddle at bars 24-5. To such flaws must be added the applause, which comes bursting out the split second each piece ends. It will make some people want to run a mile; and it lasts (no doubt by coincidence) nearly four minutes in all.
Although this may not be everyone's ideal record or performance, one is of course delighted that it eventually proved possible to stumble across the tape, apparently quite by chance, even after 16 years. As Mr Legge says, we must be grateful. Claps and lapse alike are no doubt justified by such qualities as immediacy, excitement, the sense of presence and participation. But you may wonder (like Mr Milestone when told that unexpectedness was a feature of landscape gardening) by what name one calls these qualities when one encounters them for the second time?
The Musical Times, Apr. 1970 (p. 398) © the estate of eric sams