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Bruno Walter
GUSTAV MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No 1 in D Major "Titan"
Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection" #
With Maureen Forrester (contralto), Emilia Cundari (soprano) Westminster Choir
Symphony No. 4 in G Major#
With Desi Halban (soprano)
Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor #
Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Mildred Miller (mezzo soprano)
Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit
Desi Halban (soprano) and Bruno Walter (piano)
Das Lied von der Erde #
Desi Halban (soprano) Ernst Haefliger (tenor)
A Working Portrait: Recording The Mahler Ninth Symphony - Narrated By John McClure
A Talking Portrait: Bruno Walter In Conversation With Arnold Michaelis
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major "Romantic"
Symphony No. 7 in E Major
Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Te Deum in C Major #
Frances Yeend (soprano) Martha Lipton (mezzo soprano)
David Lloyd (tenor) Mack Harrell (baritone)
Westminster Choir
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Overture & Bacchanale (Venusburg Music) from Tannhäuser
The Occidental College Concert Choir
Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Der fliegende Holländer Overture
Prelude to Act I of Parsifal
Good Friday Music from Parsifal
Overture to Act I of Lohengrin
Siegfried Idyll
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
New York Philharmonic Orchestra #
Bruno Walter
Recorded 1947-1961
SONY ORIGINAL JACKET LIMITED EDITION SX13K92460 [13 CDs: 51.59 + 47.06 + 50.05 + 60.46 + 32.08 + 60.02 + 58.31 + 62.51 + 66.16 + 68.48 + 64.39 + 71.35 + 78.29]

 

One might as well borrow from Mahler’s First and title this 13 CD box the Titan. It enshrines some of Walter’s Mahler, Bruckner and Wagnerian recordings for CBS so we have the 1961 stereo First, and the New York Second, Fourth and Fifth (the latter two in mono). The Ninth is the famous stereo recording. All are or have been available in multiple transfers over the years, as have the song cycles and the Bruckner symphonies (with the Columbia Symphony) and Te Deum (New York). Similarly the Wagner Overtures, Preludes and the like are much-loved staples of the CBS back catalogue. All are presented here in Sony’s Original Jacket edition, with their miniaturised LP jacket sleeves evoking bygone days.

These recordings are so well known that specific comment seems unnecessary in a review of this kind. One should note in passing however that the Mahler 1 is in some ways superior to the earlier NY Phil recording of 1954. True there’s not the string weight that we find in the first commercial recording and Walter’s second theme (movement 1) verges on the arch but the trio is especially fine and his handling of the elfin waltz in the Scherzo is superb. The heart of his triumph is the slow movement, a complete reconciliation of its elements, and a must-hear for Mahlerians. The finale is quite measured, more so than 1954 but what it may lack in electricity is compensated for in terms of granitic truthfulness. His Second has the same kind of breadth and in the first movement, at least, a degree of restraint as well. There is a grace to his music making and a cultivation of wide dynamic variations that gives his handling of the Symphony weight and cumulative power. If, in the last resort, I feel about his finale the same way I feel of the finale of Mahler 1 – that it’s too stinting of the coruscating and the dramatic – then nothing should diminish from the overall achievement; the conception remains true to itself.

His Fourth is an affectionate and light reading, quite lithe and forward moving, as his Mahler could so often be, though never sounding harried and breathless. Phrasing remains utterly natural sounding and in soprano Desi Halban he has a singer with a bit of grit in her voice - though she's certainly not for those who crave liquid effulgence in their Mahler singing. The Fifth is again on the brisk side (with his famously fast Adagietto) but Walter's accents are superbly weighted and the sense of propulsive animation infectious - even if we may crave greater relaxation. The orchestral playing is first class, brass and horns especially, and the opening up of the sound perspective here is a decisive advantage. Walter and Halban join forces for the eight songs from Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit. Here nothing can be done to salvage the skewed balance which means that Walter's piano is semi audible at best; it does nothing to aid a genuine sense of communing music making though Halban again proves a singer of convincing musicality; the quality of the voice is something else. These recordings were last available on Sony Classic Recordings 515301-2, a two CD set with sonically improved transfer, using original lacquers, which are used here as well.

Walter’s association with the Ninth, of which he’d given the premiere in 1912, was profound. His live 1938 Vienna performance is a touch tauter, its conception realised with just that much more intensity, at least in the first three movements. But this 1961 recording scores very highly nonetheless in its realisation of tension building and tempo correlation of long stretches of music; these are subsumed into an impressive, convincing and ultimately stoic reading and one entirely in the great lineage of Walter’s Mahler recordings.  Mildred Miller’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is very warmly played and thoroughly accomplished – if not, ultimately, fully characterised vocally speaking, or at least not by the very highest standards.

Though he may remembered less for his Bruckner this symphonic trio shows his strengths. The Fourth is poetic and flexible and notably well balanced internally by Walter even if the strings do sound a little lacking in weight in the tuttis from time to time. With fine textures guaranteed and Walter’s acute perception in matters of pacing the only thing lacking – for some – is a final degree of heft. The Seventh is a sovereign example of symphonic control and makes one appreciate even more Walter’s interview comments on the composer, which are presented in an appendix  (in fact he’s heard in two interviews and both are sage, valuable and rewarding documents). What I miss in his Seventh though is a degree of smoothness in the slow movement; this is taken at a very flowing and forward moving tempo; there’s little or no digging into the string or expressive indulgence. As a result the climax isn’t as overwhelming as it can – and arguably should – be; no cymbal clash of course in this edition. These considerations seem to me comprehensively resolved in his Ninth, and what is probably the greatest of his Bruckner recordings. Once more there isn’t the tumult and the powerful sinew that others bring to it; in Walter’s hands we hear instead the powerful nobility and essential humanity of it. Textures are once more clear and rather aerated and the symphonic structure is detailed with especial care and clarity. In the finale we have an overwhelming grandeur without hysteria, which seems to be Walter’s greatest characteristic, emotively speaking, in Bruckner. The 1953 Te Deum was recorded in New York. Whilst the soloists are good they’re not outstanding; that accolade belongs to the conductor whose sure sense of pacing and dramatic unity are crowned by a truly dramatic peroration.

In the light of these heavy symphonic utterances the Wagner items might seem to be makeweights. Not so. These are microcosms of great Wagner conducting - of which the Parsifal extracts are wonderfully conceived and the Tannhäuser full of evocative drama. Not one is less than magnificent and that goes for the playing as well.

The big booklet is tri-lingual – English, German and French – which can get a little unwieldy in the way the text is laid out but there are also some fine photographs and full recording details and they more than compensate. In fact consolidated box sets rarely come more eloquent than this and the very competitive price should ensure that Walter’s humane voice is heard anew.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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