> Bruno Walter: Great conductors series [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Bruno WALTER
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No. 2
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Rec 29 December 1953, 30th Street Studio, New York City
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 6 'Pastoral'
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Rec 5 December 1936, Musikverein, Vienna
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Overture: The Marriage of Figaro
British Symphony Orchestra
Rec 15 April 1932, Westminster Central Hall, London
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 92 'Oxford'
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Rec 7 May 1938, Théâtre Pigalle, Paris
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Overture: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
British Symphony Orchestra
Rec 16 May 1930
Die Walküre, Act 2 Scene 5
Lotte Lehmann (soprano, Sieglinde), Ella Flesch (soprano, Brnnhilde), Lauritz Melchior (tenor, Siegmind), Alfred Jerger (bass, Wotan), Emanuel List (bass, Hunding)
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Kindertotenlieder: No. 1, 'Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n'
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Rec 4 October 1942, Kingsway hall, London
Symphony No. 5: Adagietto
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Rec 15 Jan 1938, Musikverein, Vienna
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)

Overture: Die Fledermaus
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Rec 17 May 1938, Théâtre Pigalle, Paris
EMI CLASSICS CZ5 75134 2 [2CDs: 77.29+66.12]


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The 'Great Composers of the 20th Century' series is a major project by any standards, so it would have been inconceivable had Bruno Walter not been included. Born in 1872, he had by the turn of the century become the protégé of Gustav Mahler, following his master to Vienna, and his illustrious career continued right through to the end of his life in the 1960s.

Walter's last recordings therefore benefit from more modern sound recording techniques and apparatus. However, they were made for CBS and were therefore problematic as far as this EMI series was concerned. For the latest recording amongst this collection of performances, that of Brahms Symphony No. 2, dates from the early fifties. True, it does have a richer and more truthful sound than is found elsewhere on the two discs, but compared with what can be achieved on record it is still decidedly poor in quality. That, alas, is the tale of the whole enterprise. For these performances were recorded for 78 shellac recordings, and while some effort has been made to 'clean them up', they still classify firmly in the 'historical' department.

That sums up the whole affair, to be frank. How much you will enjoy Walter's undeniably urbane and civilised musicianship depends on how much you are able to suspend your disbelief and tolerate the thin string sound, the lack of richness in tuttis, and all the other limitations of recordings from the pre-LP era. Nor are these recordings of the best in any case.

If all that represents the bad news, what of the good? Walter operates in these performances with some fine orchestras, most notably the Vienna Philharmonic either side of the Second World War. The ill-starred British Symphony Orchestra, which did not survive into the post-war era, performs overtures by Mozart and Wagner in the helpful acoustic of the Kingsway Hall, but there is a lack of detail in the textures which loses much of the music's impact.

The scene from the Second Act of Wagner's Die Walküre features some of the leading singers of the thirties, in particular Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior as Sieglinde and Siegmund. As such it is an interesting historical document. Walter's pacing and phrasing always seems entirely right, as it does also in Beethoven and Brahms, whose Sixth and Second Symphonies respectively are the largest pieces on offer, together occupying the first of the two discs.

As with other issues from this source, the packaging is excellent, with a stimulating essay about the conductor and some useful insights into the music. However, more than with other issues in the series, this one must be placed firmly in the 'historical' category, with all that description implies.
Terry Barfoot


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