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Bruno Walter in concert: with Huberman’s last recorded performance
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21 (1800) [21.32] +
Leonore Overture No.3 Op.72 (1806) [11.48]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.39 in E flat K543 (1788) [24.02]
Violin Concerto No.4 K218 (1775) [21.46]
Bronislaw Huberman (violin)
NBC Symphony Orchestra +
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Bruno Walter
rec. 25 March 1939 +, 26 May 1946 (remainder)
ARBITER 138 [79.48]
 


Two concerts separated by the War. The first took place in March 1939 and found Walter on the cusp of a permanent move to America. He conducted the NBC Orchestra at the generous invitation of Toscanini, and here in the C major Beethoven symphony he proves more lithe than his later 1947 NYPO recording. The later performance saw a distinct relaxation of tempo and a less penetrating way with accented material but it’s nevertheless valuable to hear any Walter Beethoven performance and to trace divergences from the norm or intensities of music making for internal or externalised reasons. This was a particularly unsettled period.
 
The three items that derive from the 26 May 1946 concert were given with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York. The Leonore Overture is something of an extreme example of Walter’s art and one could argue for Toscanini’s influence. Pre-War in Vienna he took thirteen minutes – you can find it on Naxos (see review) – but here he drives through it in 11.48 and the differences, in tempo, feeling and incision, are substantial. It may be more externally expressive in phrasing than other of his performances but it does feel driven; over-driven, in fact. Later still in New York, in 1954, he reverted to a more reserved, Walter-ish tempo of 13.40
 
Mozart’s E flat symphony can profitably be contrasted with the 1934 commercial recording with the BBC Symphony. Every movement bar the finale is quicker in New York though I strongly prefer Walter’s earlier thoughts. For a start, beyond his control naturally, this concert has very compressed sonics. More significantly there’s a rather exaggerated sense throughout and some lumpy rhythm; transitions don’t sound as natural as they had a decade earlier. There are ensemble imprecisions in the slow movement which, whilst intensely communicative, can sound rather heavily on-the-beat. The finale is actually the most convincingly thought-through of the movements; spruce entry points and a spirited sense of direction. 
 
The same concert also saw Bronislaw Huberman join Walter for what Arbiter calls his “last recorded performance.” This is not to be confused with the 1945 broadcast survival of the same concerto that the two men gave that was put out some years ago by Music & Arts. The performance is however consonant with that one. Huberman’s intonation does wander and there are bowing eccentricities along with a typically retrogressive approach to matters tonal. The signal collapses briefly at 6.16, just before the first movement cadenza. His phrasing of the slow movement is the polar opposite of the luminous but as ever he vests his playing with provocative harshness of tone and penetrating immediacy of musico-architectural insight. There are some gloriously anachronistic (then as well as now) successive downward portamneti in the finale; whatever else one can say of Huberman in this repertoire, he was never dull.
 
The sound quality, as alluded to earlier, is variable. The Huberman concert has recessive sound, scratches and surface noise; it’s no different in the remainder. Nevertheless this is an important document and collectors will find imperfect sonics a small price to pay for such provoking and unsettled performances.

Jonathan Woolf   
 

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