> Mozart 40 Brahms 2 Walter 1950 [TD]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K.550

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97)
Symphony No.2 in D major, op.73

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter
Recorded "live" at the Titania Palast, Berlin on 25th September 1950
TAHRA TAH452 [63.33]


This is the second CD that has emerged this month of recordings from Bruno Walterís belated return to Germany in 1950. I have also reviewed the release on Orfeo (C562021B) containing items from the Munich concert on October 2nd (Schubertís "Unfinished" and Mahlerís First). This Tahra disc gives us the first chance to hear the concert that Walter conducted in Berlin the previous week. Like their Munich colleagues the Berlin players had also lost their concert hall to wartime bombing. They had been giving their performances in a converted cinema and if you are familiar with Willhelm Furtwänglerís post-war radio recordings you will certainly recognise the sound of the Titania Palast very well.

The Mozart Fortieth Symphony is grand and stately in the first movement though it is never ponderous. In fact itís the kind of performance that audiences fully expected as recently as twenty-five years ago but which have now vanished on the altar of the "authentic movement". So tempi are long breathed, orchestral sound is beefier, melodies and themes are sung, facets which describe the rest of the performance too. The Berlin players seem to have no difficulty giving Walter exactly what he asks which is not a million miles from what Furtwängler was asking of them at the time, in this repertoire at least. Perhaps with Walter there is a touch more elegance, in the second movement especially, but this is Mozart from another world as valid and important as any you will hear. The last movement is superb with the wonderful security of ensemble Walter can rely on used to fullest extent. The string playing especially has great thrust and virtuosity, and listen to those plangent woodwinds singing through the texture.

When you hear the way Walter gets the violins to effortlessly "float" their theme in the first movement of the Brahms Second Symphony I think you will be convinced that in Berlin Walter had an orchestra still as great as it was pre-war. The whole of the first movement exudes huge experience and security and that means the players can deliver Walterís essentially pastoral, very sunny and soft-grained vision of the first movement. It is almost as if you can tell they are pleased for one night to discard the darkness and mystery that Furtwängler brought to this music. The recorded sound also allows some lovely woodwind details to emerge but always with that bedrock of lower brass, lower strings and also very deep timpani that seemed to be such a fingerprint of the Berliners.

I always feel that when Brahms first thought of the great opening theme of the second movement a wide smile must have broken across his face. It always does on mine, especially when it is immediately repeated. Listen to the way the cellos phrase it here. Itís as though they are carrying on their shoulders a whole tradition, one that stretches back to the composer; one Walter was as qualified as any conductor who has ever lived to represent too. There is the same seamless emergence of every bar of the music that only orchestra and conductor in total accord can manage. Amazing when you consider this was Walterís first performance in Berlin for at least two decades. This is expressive without being indulgent or losing the thread of the symphonic argument that runs beneath.

The third movement is remarkable for the precision of the strings and woodwind and then for the way the strings can turn, in the blink of an eye, to the grander elements that Brahms injects here and which Walter, in all honesty, always seems more at home with. The last movement has great lift and propulsion though some might find that distinctive timpani sound (so beloved of Furtwängler) somewhat hampering to the rhythm. Walter doesnít hurry here. Rather he wants to convey the feeling of great kinetic power piled up behind him. Characteristically the coda doesnít go for empty excitement or rhetoric. Instead there is a solid, noble sonorous ending marred just a touch by a couple of sour notes from the horns, but after a long evening they can be forgiven.

The playing of the orchestra is excellent and even the mono sound has great presence and depth though it is, of course, limited when compared with more modern recordings. It is, however, a better sound than that on the Orfeo release already mentioned and the Berliners show their Munich counterparts what great playing really is. Tahra, as always, has rendered the best sound from original tapes. As I said in my review of the Orfeo release I would never recommend recordings like this as first choice. Neither would I compare them with modern versions. Issues like these are of historical interest and any musical value stems from that. However, this is a release that gave me much pleasure and deserves to be well known.

An important occasion out of the archive that in the Brahms symphony offers a performance of great stature.

Tony Duggan


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