It’s July 29th 1951; the opening night of the first Bayreuth Festival since the end of the war. Noted anti-Nazi Wilhelm Furtwängler will conduct the Festival Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from the Festspielhaus. It will be broadcast live by Süddeutsche Rundfunk(*) and will be relayed by stations in Germany, Austria, France and Sweden. You are sitting in front of your valve radio because commercial transistor models are not yet on the market. You can’t record it to listen to later because tape reorders are almost as rare in 1951 as transistor radios.
You can feel the buzz in the applause as Furtwängler ascends the podium. In the first movement the conducting is almost metronomically regular. The second movement too but the third is gorgeous; very slow but so delicate. There’s something deliberate again about the opening of the fourth movement as the expectation builds. And there’s a longish pause before Otto Edelmann breaks in with the opening lines of Schiller’s An die Freude. Then he’s joined by Elisabeth Schwarzkof; whose every syllable oozes an aristocratic, almost disdainful, elegance, Elisabeth Höngen and Hans Hopf. And, of course, the Festival Chorus. It’s quite thrilling.
Well, now one can almost relive the experience. BIS records have released the entire broadcast based on a mono tape held in the archives of Swedish Radio. It hasn’t been touched up. It’s as close to what somebody with a decent radio would have heard in 1951 as one can get. It’s even got the original announcements and credits and even the original dynamic range which is really a bit wider than one might expect or wish. That said, overall it sounds really, surprisingly perhaps, good. Oddly the physical release is a hybrid Hi-res CD/SACD release but I can’t imagine that the technology adds much to the standard res files I listened to. There’s good documentation as a bonus.
(*)On which station I made an appearance much closer in time to 1951 than to now.