Bruno Walter made his first post-war appearances in
Europe between 1947 and 1949 but he didnít venture into Germany until
1950 when he conducted in Berlin and Munich. One concert from each city
was recorded for radio broadcast and these have now appeared on CD for
the first time on two different labels. The Munich concert is on this
issue from Orfeo whilst the Berlin concert (Mozartís 40th
and Brahmsís 2nd with the Berlin Philharmonic) is on Tahra
(TAH 452), a disc I shall be reviewing too.
In fact, as the poster for the concert shows, the Munich concert also
contained Weberís Euryanthe Overture but issuing that would have meant
spilling on to a second CD so the decision has clearly been taken to
leave that in the archives.
Walter had worked for ten years in Munich between 1913
and 1922 so it must have been a shattering experience to be led (by
the young Georg Solti) through the ruins of the bombed National Theatre
to the rehearsal hall at the side of the gutted building when he arrived.
I donít think Iím being too fanciful in hearing some of that regret
in his fine, old-world reading of Schubertís "Unfinished"
Symphony. The second movement in particular is grave and solemn, full
of nostalgia and yearning and a real tone of memoriam. Likewise in the
first movement Walter moulds the melodic line with love and care, but
then when the time comes he can thrust home the symphonic argument memorably.
It was only in his later years Walter gained the reputation of "soft
grained" and here there is power and resolve when the velvet glove
The Mahler First is similar in conception to Walterís
first studio recording, the one he made with the New York Philharmonic
a few years after this Munich performance. It is swifter and more closely
argued than his final recording, made in stereo in California, but still
maintains the lilt and the lyricism of the Schubert performance where
appropriate. The introduction to the first movement manages to be lyrical
without being ponderous. Indeed Walterís unwillingness to drag is a
reminder that this was the era of quicker Mahler tempi. So the first
subject theme, from the second of the "Wayfarer" songs, moves
with a real spring in its step. In the development that follows I was
quite surprised at how little portamenti Walter asks of his cellos
and how well the soft pulse of the bass drum is reproduced in this limited
broadcast tape. I also enjoyed Walterís innate grasp of string phrasing
following the quiet announcement of the clinching theme from the horns.
At the real climax of the movement the recording betrays its origins
in that the full tutti gets rather crowded on the ear, but if
you are prepared to listen through this you will enjoy the sweep of
the music to the timpani punctuation at the end.
The second movement seems to catch the orchestra off
guard, as there is some insecurity in the ensemble. I also think Walterís
breezy treatment of the trio section a little unidiomatic. The opening
of the third movement is marred somewhat by creaks and shuffles on the
platform and from coughs from the audience but on the plus side is a
reedy double bass soloist, a bassoonist full of character and a really
lugubrious tuba player all caught well by the microphones. The "café
band" interjections are slightly held back which makes a good ironic
point and the central core of the movement, another "Wayfarer"
quote, is chaste and gently etched and note too the slides from the
The limited sound does mar the opening of the last
movement, as does the hard edge of the orchestra. However so much is
made up for by Walterís intimate knowledge of the music in the movement
- the peaks and troughs of Mahlerís first finale - to allow him to deliver
the full gamut of emotion: excitement, nobility, longing and, in the
passage before the coda, nostalgia again. The orchestra keeps up most
of the time too. Even though Mahler could hardly have been familiar
fare to a German orchestra in 1950. This was five years after many years
of Nazi banning had finally ended, remember. Walter delivers the coda
with panache but also with a trenchant, heavy downforce on the rhythm.
The mono broadcast sound in both works is clear and
yields a surprising amount of detail. However, as you would expect,
the dynamic range is quite narrow and thereís a top edge and a glare
in both the louder passages and the higher frequencies, as well as deficiency
in the bass. There are also the coughs and shuffles of the audience
to take into account and some platform mishaps.
I would never recommend recordings like this as first
choices. Neither would I normally compare them with modern versions.
Issues like these are principally of value for their historical interest
and any musical value stems from that. But to hear Schubert and Mahler
conducted by this man at this time on this occasion is something which
should interest those who, like me, believe musical performances are
events set in time. From this time in particular I believe there is
that tone of regret in the Schubert and I also thought the very subdued
applause at the end of the Mahler instructive when compared with the
greeting they gave to the Schubert. Five years before this performance
the members of this audience were still being told that this music was
"Jewish trash" not fit for their ears, and so they must have
felt a mixture of emotions when listening to it and when reacting to
As a piece of history in sound I found these performances
fascinating and very enjoyable.