I first discovered Bruno Walter
(1886-1962) about twenty years ago when I bought his early 1960s
“Pastoral” (Columbia Symphony, ML 5284) as a leaving present.
It was the only Pastoral in HMV at the time and marked “Historical”!
I later acquired many of Walter’s recordings and love his style
which is sometimes described as humane and affectionate but
The present recordings date from
the 1930s from which period I have only heard his famous Mahler
9 and Das Lied (both available on Naxos). I must say
firstly that the packaging notes and above all the transfer
by Mark Obert-Thorn are first rate. Just what historical transfers
should be. All these recordings come from commercially released
78s recorded mainly for HMV.
This is a celebrated performance
and brings us Walter with his beloved VPO in 1936. It is also
available in “The Great Conductors” series (EMI/IMG) which I
have not heard. This is an energetic and well played performance
and Mark Obert-Thorn has done marvellously well with the transfer.
I love the “Pastoral” of all symphonies and to be able to hear
this recording from seventy years ago in very tolerable sound
is wonderful. I must say that for the general listener the recording
from 1960 on Sony is in better sound and indeed a better performance.
The Columbia Symphony Orchestra was in fact the Los Angeles
Philharmonic Orchestra. There is another recording from 1946
from Philadelphia but I haven’t heard it in a decent transfer.
There is delightful phrasing from
the woodwind in a delightful opening movement. The second seems
a bit slow to my ears - slower than in 1960 - but the playing
is fine with the performance practice of the time ”portamenti”
(swooping) in evidence. Wonderful woodwind too, well captured
by the recording. The Dance in the third movement is a joy and
compares well with other famous recordings (Erich Kleiber, Klemperer,
Toscanini et al). The phrasing is adroit and when the storm
comes the impact is terrific. A beautiful contribution from
flute and then horn shepherds in the delightful finale which
is so typical of Bruno Walter’s style. This may not be a definitive
“Pastoral” but it is a great performance and even those averse
to old recordings should give this one a listen - Quite marvellous!
Leonore No. 3 from
21 May 1936 - also on Legendary Conductors CD on Koch - is the
third (or is it fourth - there’s a Fidelio overture as well)
of the overtures written for his opera “Fidelio” and sometimes
used in the opera, prior to the finale. This is a splendid performance
with VPO again in top form. It is very different from modern
performances but thrilling nonetheless. I love the trumpets”
off stage” and the drums clear as a bell at the end.
The Fidelio Overture
from 21 May 1934 features the BBC Symphony Orchestra then
so well prepared by Sir Adrian Boult. This is a dynamic and
well played recording and how appropriate that this vehement
affirmation of a piece extolling freedom should be recorded
when this was being attacked in Beethoven’s home country.
The Coriolan Overture
from 12 September 1938 comes from Walter after he had escaped
from Viennaa few months earlier. The LSO were not at their best
at this time but Walter gets them to produce an inspired performance.
One reviewer calls it soft-centered but I detect a hand of steel
here to motivate the players in this gem of a piece.
This Creatures of Prometheus
Overture is from 1930 and does sound earlier than the
other pieces. This is not one of Beethoven’s most famous pieces
- the “Eroica” theme appears in the ballet music - but Walter
brings out the delightful melodies and inspires the woodwind
and orchestra. Remarkable for 75 years old!
This great disc collects seventy
minutes of music-making from another era. It is sobering to
think that there’s unlikely to be any of these performers alive
today. This is a triumph of restoring old recordings and worth
around a fiver from anyone remotely interested. The fact that
they were recorded by necessity “live” in takes of four minutes
adds to the feeling of live performances.
David R Dunsmore
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf