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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Great Conductors: Bruno Walter Conducts
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 Pastoral [38:59]
Leonore Overture No. 3 in C, Op. 72a [13:07]
Fidelio Overture, Op. 72 [6:16]  
Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 [7:26]
The Creatures of Prometheus Overture Op.43 [4:46]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (6, Leonore 3); London Symphony Orchestra (Fidelio); BBC Symphony Orchestra (Coriolan); British Symphony Orchestra (Prometheus)
Bruno Walter, conductor
rec. 5 December 1936 Musikvereinsaal (6); 21 May 1936 Musikvereinsaal (Leonore 3); 12 September 1938, Abbey Road (Fidelio); 21 May 1938, Abbey Road (Coriolan); 16 May 1930, Central Hall Westminster (Prometheus). ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111032 [70:35]

 

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 not soft.

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.

Pastoral

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

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