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Bruno Walter in New York - Volume II
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Exsultate Jubilate K165
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Concerto No.2 Op.83
Violin Concerto Op.77
Symphony No.2 Op.73
Irmgard Seefried (soprano)
Myra Hess (piano)
Erica Morini (violin)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Recorded live 1951 (Symphony and Piano Concerto) and 1953 (Violin Concerto and Mozart)
TAHRA 545 [63.14 + 77.23]


The second volume in Tahra’s Walter/New York broadcasts is, with the exception of the Mozart Exsultate Jubilate, an all-Brahms affair. All performances were taped between 1951 and 1953. Included is a pairing that has stirred some admiration over the years in previous appearances – Walter and Myra Hess in the Second Concerto. This is a spacious and noble reading of a work Hess had fought shy of performing – in that she was of course hardly unique – and indeed had first performed only thirteen years before, with Boult in London in 1938. She sounds thoroughly in control of its rhetoric though sometimes the runs are apt to be rather blurry – a deficiency she covers with quite a bit of pedal. It’s a leonine, humane reading and the opposite of the Horowitz/Toscanini approach, as documented in their commercial and live performances (dismal experiences in the extreme). Two highlights here are the passionate traversal of the Allegro appassionato and the fusion of gracioso elegance of phrasing and the capricious timing that emboldens the finale. But these are two amongst many in a reading that has both humility and humanity in equal measure.

Walter was joined by another distinguished Brahmsian, Erica Morini, in the Violin Concerto, which was a work she’d recorded and of whose performances live broadcasts also exist. Her silvery tone, restrained vibrato and lyrical intimacy are all characteristic. As are indeed her pervasive Viennese portamenti, a number falling rather predictably toward the end of phrases. Sometimes the recording accentuates – or her relative lack of projection exacerbates – a tendency for her to be covered during wind passages and for small tuning clashes to occur (try around 5.50 in the slow movement). In the Adagio we have that feminine reticence at its most persuasive and in the finale there’s a brisk elevation that is attractive without ever quite possessing that necessary gypsy spirit. The notes don’t mention a brief but horrible mishap in the first movement from 10.40 when after some tough passagework Morini’s intonation buckles, she loses composure, plays a bare approximation and in fact then misses a phrase altogether. She gets aboard though; these things do happen in concerts and sang froid prevails all round, Walter maintaining imperturbable professionalism in the same way that Hamilton Harty had once waited a couple of bars whilst Wilhelm Backhaus recovered himself in Manchester in the 1920s.

Brahms’ Second was one of Walter’s favourite symphonies. The sheer consistency of his approach between the commercial and off air performances that survive from the twenty year period from 1940 to 1960 argue that he had long since arrived at a plateau of understanding. The sound here is sympathetic, string choirs are splendid and the NYPSO play with corporate virtuosity and lyric flexibility. The slow movement is particularly moving and the principal horn distinguishes himself throughout. I’d far rather listen to Walter’s New York Philharmonic Brahms to his later Columbia Symphony, which is rhythmically slacker though assiduous collectors will know, as Tahra reminds us in its notes, that other extant performances of this symphony exist with the orchestras of Boston, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris as well as the NBC. In the Mozart, to which Walter came relatively late in his career, Seefried is capable of considerable power and yet never forces (except in the final phrase) whilst managing to maintain softness at the top of her register.

Certainly this is an attractive compilation of Walter’s New York broadcasts. The Piano Concerto performance is a deeply attractive one and the Symphony shows his special affinities. Warmly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

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